On television, anyway. Buoyed by the below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line success of those Designing Women of Atlanta, the Razorback crowd of Evening Shade, the Mississippi dramatics of In the Heat of the Night, and other Southern-based prime-time shows, the networks have become more enamored of the onetime Confederacy than ever before. New to the TV union: I’ll Fly Away, which is filmed in Atlanta but set in a fictional Southern town; The Torkelsons, who hail from rural Oklahoma; and The Royal Family, whose roots are in Atlanta.
Despite I’ll Fly Away‘s serious intentions, the Southern turn could be part of the movement away from hard-edged, urban cynicism and back to those qualities the South has always called its own: hospitality, small-town folksiness, and reverence for the family. Media analysts cite a return to basic values but, of course, the networks are not blind to the fact that Southerners account for nearly a third of the country’s 92.1 million TV-viewing households. Even if the networks are so calculating as to place a few more shows in the South simply to up their Nielsen ratings — NBC just added a variety show, Hot Country Nights, to its prime-time lineup — at least the current shows seem to offer a broader view of Southern characters.
”For a long time,” says Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who created Designing Women and Evening Shade with husband Harry Thomason, ”there wasn’t much on TV that reflected the real South.” Now, Southern women aren’t bimbos, African- Americans are more complex, and even a Dixie boy’s twang (David Keith in Flesh ‘N Blood) sounds more sexy than stupid. ”People are longing for that kind of front-porch intimacy,” says Bloodworth-Thomason, ”and there are still an awful lot of porches in the South.”