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FAT City

September 28, 1986|BILL STALL | Bill Stall is a Times editorial writer.

One of the more tantalizing questions of summer has been just what effect the forthcoming television mini-series Fresno will have on the image of poor old Fresno, Calif.

One view is that Fresno has taken such a beating, things can't get worse.

Early indications are not encouraging, though. There has been a report in USA Today on the filming of Fresno that had a lot of fun with the official airline designation for Fresno, FAT. As in, would you want FAT plastered all over your luggage? There's a perfectly logical explanation: The letters stand for Fresno Air Terminal. It may be time to designate it Fresno International.

Fresno the TV series is a spoof of Dallas, Falcon Crest, Dynasty and other prime-time soap operas that focus on a region and a jet-set, board-room family of wealth and glamour beset by almost every sort of human nastiness imaginable.

In Fresno, the setting, of course, is Fresno; the source of wealth is raisins, and the family is headed by Charlotte Kensington, portrayed by comedienne Carol Burnett. "It's about lust, greed, murder, sex--all those good things," Burnett said.

What do you suppose they will use for the opening scene of Fresno? The opening scenes in nighttime soaps are very important since they establish the opulent, or decadent, tone for what follows. In Dallas, there are sweeping shots of the Dallas skyline and South Fork Ranch. In Falcon Crest, Angela Channing's black limousine crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and rolls into the wine country. In Dynasty, there's Blake Carrington's Colorado mansion and a montage of Rockies. In Fresno, there is talk of using the city water tower.

That doesn't seem right. Anyone who knows the San Joaquin Valley realizes that the irrigation canal is a more appropriate symbol of Fresno County's agricultural plenty. They could start shooting up in the Sierra, with a little freshet melting from a snowbank and follow it down to the sprinkler systems in the fields. That would be effective.

Fresno was picked in part because of the notoriety it got by being ranked in the original Places Rated Almanac as almost the least-desirable metropolitan area in the nation in which to live (No. 272 out of 277). Even Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield did better. Midland, Tex., was No. 111. How do they explain that?

Clearly, the data used to compile the rankings was biased. Fresno ranked 251st in climate and terrain, even though its weather was listed as sunny with nice springtimes and falls, but hot summers. So the terrain is flat. Valleys are supposed to be flat. But Fresno is a gateway to Yosemite and the nearest ski area is only about 60 miles away.

In climate and terrain, Fresno ranked worse than Amarillo, Tex., and Portland, Maine and not far ahead of Great Falls, Mont., and Fargo, N.D. Have you ever been in Great Falls in February? And just try to find Amarillo. You can't.

Modesto, just up the road, was ranked 55th in climate and terrain. The climate and terrain there doesn't seem to be that much different than than Fresno's.

I'd rather take the word of "The Book of America" by Neal R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom. It doesn't say anything bad about Fresno. In fact, Peirce and Hagstrom report that "Fresno has a particularly attractive downtown mall." How many attractive downtown malls can you see in Dynasty or Falcon Crest?

The show's originator and executive producer, Barry Kemp, also explained, "There's a fun sound to Fresno." Fresno means "ash tree." What's so humorous about an ash tree? In that case, why didn't they locate the show in Sheboygan? Sheboygan has a fun ring to it. Or Chicago? Chicago means "onion place."

The producer insists that "we don't make fun of Fresno." But if they're not making fun of Fresno, in a spoof of Dallas, why make the show at all?

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