The Show Me State shows off on the small screen.
A number of Missouri-forged actors and Missouri-set stories have beamed into American homes via antennae, cable packages and, eventually, streaming services. This has especially been true in recent TV history — from University of Missouri alum Jon Hamm's striking presence to sitcoms given Missouri zip codes, our state has made its mark.
Here is a brief look at the way Missouri has shaped TV in recent decades. No doubt, many more Missouri connections could be made before and behind the camera; these entries represent just a few of the ways we've mattered to TV.
Jenna Fischer, Ellie Kemper, Phyllis Smith ('The Office')
The Mona Lisa of workplace comedies, this NBC series — running from 2005-2013 — prominently featured a surprising number of Missourians. Most integral, Jenna Fischer (half of one of TV's great, will they-won't they couples as Pam) grew up in St. Louis and attended Truman State University. She would receive an Emmy nomination for her work on the show.
Phyllis Smith, who played Phyllis Vance, was born in St. Louis, attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis and even performed as a cheerleader for the formerly St. Louis, now Arizona, Cardinals of the NFL.
Ellie Kemper, who joined the series as Erin Hannon in Season Five, was born in Kansas City, part of the well-known Kemper family. Raised in St. Louis, Kemper would receive notoriety years later for participating in the Veiled Prophet Ball, a St. Louis tradition with bizarre and racist roots. Kemper would go on to earn Emmy nominations as the title character in the Tina Fey co-created comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
Heidi Gardner ('Saturday Night Live')
A Kansas City native and serious Chiefs backer, Gardner joined the "SNL" cast in 2017 and has flexed her versatility ever since. From straight-woman roles to seriously silly, Gardner can do it all. She's especially excelled with "Weekend Update" pop-ins, bringing perfect pitch to characters who draw the absurdity out of popular tropes.
Gardner attended the University of Kansas before transferring to MU.
Other "SNL" cast members to claim the Show Me State include: Tim Kazurinsky (1981-84; lived and worked in St. Louis as an adult) and Chris Redd (2017-22; born in St. Louis).
Jon Hamm ('Mad Men')
A golden boy in the age of prestige television — and ambassador for Missouri — the St. Louis native and eventual MU grad carved a place for himself in TV history as Don Draper, the suave and damaged ad whiz on "Mad Men." Hamm played Draper for the series' run from 2007-2015, earning an Emmy and a pair of Golden Globes.
In 2015, Entertainment Weekly named Draper one of the 25 Best TV Characters of the Past 25 Years, observing that — given the tropes he fulfilled as a discontented white man working in a New York high-rise — he "should've been the most boring character ever."
"There's nothing fantastical or glitzy to Don Draper on paper, but Jon Hamm brought the advertising executive to life with a defining performance ...," Eric Renner Brown wrote. "Forsaking cheap gimmicks, Mad Menwas as good as character studies come, and Don Draper was its greatest achievement."
Hamm would prove his comedy chops on the small screen too, with guest spots on "30 Rock," "Kimmy Schmidt" and hosting gigs on "Saturday Night Live."
Set in Missouri's shadows, the Netflix thriller took a darker look at our region, a TV analog to the novels of Daniel Woodrell and Daren Dean. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner led the cast in its exploration of one family's life in money laundering around the Lake of the Ozarks.
Receiving a wealth of Golden Globe and Emmy nominations, "Ozark" earned three acting Emmys for Garner and a directing Emmy for Bateman. Writing about the show's fourth and final season, The Daily Beast's Nick Schager deemed it a study in "selfishness."
"Without fail, its entangled characters thwart themselves through rogue action, with tragedy and misfortune a constant thanks to individuals’ beliefs that they know best — and, thus, should spontaneously act on their own whims, any purported collaborative plans be damned," Schager added.
Set at a fictional St. Louis-area big box store, the NBC comedy lasted 113 episodes from 2015-2021, and is now available to stream via Hulu and Peacock. Writing about the series' legacy as it ended, IndieWire's Ben Travers noted its resonance beyond the laughs:
"In 10 years, 'Superstore' won’t just be a time capsule of how America used to work; it will have shown us the salvation we’re all searching for is standing right next to us. After these exhausting, trying, maddening six years, we have to hold onto the idea that taking care of each other is vital to progress. Some may have a greater responsibility than others, but we all have a responsibility to our neighbor, at whatever office we end up in next."
Other noteworthy Missourians on TV
Scott Bakula (born in St. Louis): Golden Globe winner and four-time Emmy nominee for his role as Sam on "Quantum Leap"; longtime role on "NCIS: New Orleans"
Cedric the Entertainer (born in Caruthersville, lived in suburban St. Louis, studied at Southeast Missouri State University): Hosted "Def Comedy Jam" and "Cedric the Entertainer Presents"; appeared on "The Steve Harvey Show," "The Soul Man" and more
Robert Guillaume (born in St. Louis, studied at St. Louis and Washington universities): Two-time Emmy winner for his character Benson DuBois, both for "Soap" and "Benson"; appeared on the likes of "Sanford and Son," "The Jeffersons," "L.A. Law" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"; died in 2017
Mark Linn-Baker (born in St. Louis): Best-known for his work as Larry on the sitcom "Perfect Strangers"; directed 36 episodes of "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper"
Doris Roberts (born in St. Louis): Five-time Emmy winner for her work on "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "St. Elsewhere"; also appeared on the likes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "All in the Family," "Barney Miller" and "Full House"; died in 2016
Aarik Danielsen is the features and culture editor for the Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or by calling 573-815-1731.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Missouri on TV: How the Show Me State shaped recent TV history