‘Well done and funny.’ KY viewers enjoying new TV show set around Lake Cumberland.

Anna Camp as Ginny and Bradley Whitford as Arthur Cochran in the pilot of “Perfect Harmony,” which will also feature Laura Bell Bundy in a recurring role this fall on NBC.
Anna Camp as Ginny and Bradley Whitford as Arthur Cochran in the pilot of “Perfect Harmony,” which will also feature Laura Bell Bundy in a recurring role this fall on NBC. Justin Lubin/NBC

Alvin Sharpe was a little leery when he heard there was a new television show set in Southern Kentucky.

“A lot of times they don’t depict the area like it ought to be,” said Sharpe, a former teacher at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg.

That’s a common sentiment in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. Many people feel like the area has often been smeared in media reports, television shows, documentaries and other coverage that trafficked in stereotypes or focused only on problems such as poverty and drug addiction, with no mention of anything positive.

“A lot of them depict Eastern Kentucky as basically being ignorant,” said Sharpe, tourism director for Williamsburg. “That’s not us.”

So when Sharpe watched the new NBC show, “Perfect Harmony,” he was pleased to find not only that it was entertaining, but that he didn’t see it portraying people in the area as “dumb hicks.”

The half-hour comedy, which airs on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. (ET), is the creation of Lesley Wake Webster, daughter of Norrie Wake, a former Fayette County attorney.

The show is about an acerbic, elitist curmudgeon named Arthur Cochran, a former Princeton University music professor whose wife was from the Lake Cumberland region.

Cochran, played by Bradley Whitford, is bereft after his wife’s death and burial in her homeplace, but then finds purpose in training a small church choir that needs some help.

Wendy Ball, a retired state police employee who has homes in Somerset and Madisonville, said the show is the best new comedy she’s seen this fall.

“I thought it was really cute,” Ball said. “I found it to be well done and funny.”

Ball said she enjoyed the Kentucky references in the show.

There have been plenty since it premiered Sept. 26.

The show is set in the fictional town of Conley Fork, but has mentioned a Methodist church in McCreary County; the Wildcats; and even Rick Pitino, the former basketball coach at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

The pastor has a UK tattoo on his shoulder, and one of the main characters, played by Anna Camp, works at the Moonbow Dairy, a shout-out to the moonbow visible in the mist at Cumberland Falls.

The “moonbow” phenomenon at Cumberland Falls is believed to only occur in one other place on earth: Victoria Falls in Africa.

In the first episode, there was a map of Lake Cumberland visible on the wall of the diner.

Wake said his daughter spent a lot of time around the lake growing up.

The family lived in Fayette County, but spent most weekends at their cabin in Wayne County, where Wake’s wife, the former Nancy Dodson, grew up at Steubenville and played piano at the Baptist church there.

“Our two daughters didn’t even know there was life in Lexington on the weekends,” Wake said.

The diner in the TV show is modeled on the now-closed Cumberland Dairy in Monticello, said Wake, who owned a winery in Wayne County at one point.

Wake said he hopes there will be more music in the show.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that we’ll hear ‘On, On U of K’ or ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’“ on the show, Wake said.

The show has another Kentucky connection in actor Laura Bell Bundy. Bundy, who grew up in Lexington, will have a recurring role.

Laura Bell Bundy
Laura Bell Bundy Richard Shotwell Invision/AP

Webster also had plenty of examples of choirs from which to draw material.

Wake’s father, Arthur Wake, was music minister at Central Christian Church in Lexington and taught at the Lexington Theological Seminary.

After retiring to Wayne County in 1989, Wake’s parents worked with community choirs, he said.

“Lesley kind of grew up in that,” Wake said.

Webster has said in interviews that the Arthur Cochran character in the show is modeled on her grandfather, who was in a “very dark place” after his wife died, leaving him alone in a place where he felt like a bit of an outsider.

“But the thing that brought him sort of back to life and gave him meaning was directing this little choir and he was standing in a circle with people singing who had radically different beliefs and had been raised differently, but together they made something really beautiful and that’s really what we want to bring to this,” Webster said in a story carried by

Wake said his daughter told him studio executives have been pleased with the show.

The rating site Rotten Tomatoes said 67 percent of critics gave the show a positive review, with a higher figure, 78 percent, among audience reviewers.

The show has been filmed in California, including an area “which sort of looks like Kentucky if you don’t look too closely,” Webster said in one interview.

It’s not clear that the show will do any filming in Kentucky.

The program makes much of the cultural mis-match between the professor, who sees himself as an urban sophisticate and calls the local people bumpkins, and the colorful, good-hearted church members, who assure him in one episode that the best way to make up with someone he’s offended is with a casserole.

One character tells Cochran he has the only “Yankee” car in town; he says the local speed limit is “mosey” and that he only cares about his reputation “among people of intellect and refinement, so not here.”

“You do have sarcasm here. What’s next — bagels?” he says in one scene.

Several viewers said they saw Cochran’s jibes in the spirit of having fun, not making fun of the region.

They weren’t bothered in the same way many were, for instance, by a 2009 television report that included the term “Mountain Dew mouth” to describe tooth decay among young people in Eastern Kentucky from drinking the soda, or an abortive effort in the early 2000s to stick a family from Appalachia in a mansion in California for a reality-show version of the “Beverly Hillbillies.”

“Being from Kentucky, it wasn’t like I sat there and cringed” watching “Perfect Harmony,” Ball said.

Gloria Sams of Somerset, who worked for the Kentucky Cancer Program at UK, said she liked how the characters have learned lessons and grown over the first several episodes.

Anyone who has ever sung in a choir knows the potential for humor in it, she said.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Sams said. “It’s off to a good start.”

Sams said she hopes as the show develops, the writers won’t feel the need to deal in stereotypes.

Wake said his daughter certainly doesn’t intend to demean her home state.

“She loves Kentucky,” Wake said.

Tourism directors said the show could be a plus in raising the profile of the area.

Lake Cumberland boats
Boats cruised on Lake Cumberland near the Lake Cumberland state dock in May 2013. Bill Estep

“I feel it’s a good thing for us,” said Michelle Allen, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Janette Marson, director of the Lake Cumberland Tourist Commission in Russell County, noted that the gritty FX drama “Justified” increased interest in Harlan County, where it was set.

“I think it’s a plus,” she said of “Perfect Harmony.” “It’ll be a benefit in some way, even if it’s a seed planted.”

Wake said the initial run of “Perfect Harmony” will extend through the end of the year. The show will take a hiatus early in 2020 while studio executives decide on the line-up for later, Wake said.

“There is nothing that is certain about this stuff,” he said.