History and Neighborhoods of Chicago Television Shows

Recently I was guiding a private group tour of Chicago, I was asked by a group of newcomers about television shows filmed in Chicago. On our Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour, we mention movies filmed in Chicago, but I found that the history and neighborhoods of Chicago television shows were more difficult to discuss. So I did a little research to answer these questions from curious people like you.

Buckingham Fountain

buckingham fountain Chicago
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tieri

One of the first Chicago television shows to come to mind is “Married… with Children,” the story of a dysfunctional family set in a fictional Chicago suburb. Though the entire 11 years of the sitcom is taped on set, its opening sequence features some Chicago footage, most notably of the Buckingham Fountain. The fountain is easily my favorite tourist attraction in Chicago. As a young girl when we drove downtown, Buckingham Fountain marked that we had arrived. If it was running, I knew it was–or soon would be–summer.

We often assume that Buckingham Fountain was named for the palace in London despite its name being rooted more locally. Officially its the Clarence F. Buckingham Fountain. The Buckinghams were known for the building of grain elevators, making them near royalty here in Chicago. They had a residence on Prairie Avenue next to the rest of the elite. Clarence’s sister, Kate, was “Chicago’s Grandest Spinster.” After her parents had past, she had a blast blowing their fortune on parties, high fashion, and a giant art collection which she later donated to the Art Institute.

Where Did Bob Newhart Work?

Realtor building architecture mag mile
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tieri

More specifically, one of our guests on that private tour asked me, “Where did Bob Newhart work?” Well the answer is 430 N. Michigan Ave. We visit the guts of this building on the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour. Nowadays this address is known as the Realtor Building, about which we’ve been hearing a good deal recently. It seems they’re planning to tear down the fictional office building of Chicago’s favorite therapist in favor of the architecture of a more elaborate spire.

In addition to this downtown office building, Bob Newhart’s character’s Edgewater apartment building still stands, and there’s a monument to his television legacy at Navy Pier’s sculpture garden. The Chicago native was born in Oak Park and raised in the Austin neighborhood, so it’s easy to see why he is so celebrated around town.

Not Actually Filmed in Chicago

chicago architecture hancock water tower
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Tieri

I’m sure you’ve noticed that both of these television shows are merely set in Chicago. Only title and exterior scenes are filmed here while the rest is shot on studio sets. Apparently, this is a trend in Chicago. This list could go on and on, including some of my favorites like “ER,” “Family Matters,” and “Shameless,” which is set in my very own Canaryville neighborhood of Chicago.

There is one show that–despite its studio set–was always filmed in Chicago: “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Though the show no longer runs, her Harpo Studios still stands on the Near West Side. Being a UIC alumna, I am familiar with the studio location, where it once was not uncommon to catch a glimpse of Oprah in the neighborhood. (The studio has been torn down since this was written, but we visit the spot on the Factories to Calories Fulton Market Food Tour.)

When I am guiding tours, the most common question I get about Oprah is “Where does she live?” This is a tricky question due to her multiple residences. Currently, Oprah lives in California, but she owns some choice Chicago real estate. Mostly notably, she has been looking to sell her condo in Water Tower Place. If you have $15,000 a month laying around, Oprah recently put up for rent her apartment in a Benjamin Marshall-designed Beaux Arts mansion on East Lake Shore Drive. Because the impressive views of people looking into her home outweighed the views looking out from it, Oprah never actually lived there.

While many other television programs show the history and neighborhoods of Chicago, like “Prison Break” or “Chicago Fire,” these are the closest to my heart and, apparently, closest to the minds of curious people on our tours.

– Elizabeth Tieri, Tour Guide

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Jen

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
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Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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