Hot in Cleveland premiered last week on TV Land, garnering favorable reviews and a large audience—the episode had almost 5 million viewers, setting a record as the highest-rated show in TV Land's history. The show's obvious big draw is Betty White, whose wry wit and canny timing is in high demand these days. But the series has another star that's been getting a lot of attention lately: the city of Cleveland.
The show follows three women on the cusp of middle-age who flee Los Angeles for a trip to Paris after various life-altering situations (divorce, getting fired from a soap opera for not having immortal beauty, the usual). One emergency plane landing and a round of drinks at a local bar later, the women realize that they're actually hot commodities in this strange, foreign, Middle America town called Cleveland. Soon, Valerie Bertinelli's character finds herself exclaiming, "I love this city! I'm going to move here!" and her two friends (played by Wendie Malick, and Jane Leeves) join her, sharing their house with its caretaker, played by White.
This isn't the first time a sitcom has noted Cleveland's ability to charm sophisticated big city-dwellers. 30 Rock set an episode there its first season, and Manhattanite Liz Lemon is so taken with the city, she almost moves there.
Just what is it about Cleveland that makes it so appealing to women from LA and New York (on TV, anyway)?
1) You feel like a celebrity. While in New York Tina Fey's alter-ego was lampooned for her love of donuts and cheese-slathered-anything, in Cleveland, she's embraced—complete with preferential treatment in line at food stands. The scarlet letter of Singledom she's ordained to wear in NYC disappears in C-Town; here, she's stopped on the street by a wide-eyed Clevelander asking if she's a model, advising her to eat more. 30 Rock's montage of the city offers a glimpse into the high life that awaits potential residents.
2) No looming natural disasters. Regina Brett of The Plain Dealer wrote a list of reasons to "love it here in Cleveland," boasting that the city's residents don't live in "mortal fear" of:
If you're a hypochondriac, leave your killer bee-stricken town immediately for the safe haven of Cleveland.
3) The rent is unbelievable, according to the ladies of Hot in Cleveland. Ditch the $1,087,577 average price tag for an LA home for a gem of a house in the Cleve for a steal at an average listing price of $119,087.
And though Forbes recently named it one of America's Most Miserable Cities, largely due to their foreclosure problems, Brett points out, "you can see them as thousands of abandoned homes or as an amazing housing stock that offers a deal for a steal. The monthly mortgage to live in a six-bedroom home here is half the price of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan."
4) They love their sports stars. Like, they really, really love them. The campaign to keep LeBron James in Cleveland with the Cavaliers has escalated to the point where they'll do practically anything to keep him—that's how deep their love runs. A grassroots organization called More Than a Player touts his merits outside of basketball as essential to the city's livelihood: "He's a friend, a mentor, a teammate, a father," and "while the rest of the world may seem him as a great player, to the fans of Northeast Ohio, he is much more." In addition to last week's LeBron James Appreciation Day, 200 kids from the Akron and Cleveland Boys and Girls clubs got together to put on this spectacle in his honor:
5) They have one heck of an official tourism video. Enjoy the smooth vocal stylings of Q-Nice set against views of the lush parks, beautiful Lake Erie, and booming city life of this fine city. Plus, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But the city of Cleveland seems reluctant to embrace any of the attention it receives from sources like Hot in Cleveland and 30 Rock. Andrea Simakis of Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer writes:
There are few things more quintessentially Cleveland than a collective self-esteem equal to that of the kid who's spent all freshman year getting Slushies thrown in her face. She's always waiting for the next blue ice bath.
When 30 Rock unveiled its tribute to the city, Samantha Fryberger, a spokesman for The Greater Cleveland Convention and Visitor's Bureau said, "You're always afraid someone is going to give us the one-two punch." Cleveland.com's Michael K. McIntyre called the city "understandably suspicious" of the episode.
"Understandably suspicious"? Of what? Cleveland might not think too highly of itself—a fragile city with a down-home, good-natured heart, and apparently a "defeatist attitude" among its residents—but the media sure loves to idealize and use Cuyahoga County as a model Middle America town that just might change the nation's perception of the heartland.