TV & Film

Badgers on the Big (and Small) Screen

Scriptwriters use creative license to claim connections to Wisconsin.

UW–Madison has a starring role in movies and on television when writers and producers call on the university’s graduates, albeit pretend ones, to help tell their stories. Here are some of the UW’s most prominent fictional alumni:



CBS Home Entertainment

Allison Parker, one of the tenants on the original Melrose Place (played by Courtney Thorne-Smith), who got her foot in the door at D&D Advertising by working as a receptionist. She bragged on the show’s pilot episode about being an honors graduate from the UW.







Andy Schwartz/Universal Pictures

Will Hayes (played by actor Ryan Reynolds), whose life, including his relationship with his ten-year-old daughter, is followed in the movie Definitely, Maybe. He leaves Madison and his college girlfriend to move to New York and work on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.





Jack and Maddie Fenton, parents of Danny Phantom, the titular character of the Nickelodeon animated series about a teenage boy who is half ghost. The Fentons, who work as professional ghost hunters, attended the UW with Vlad Plasmius, Danny Phantom’s arch-nemesis. Plasmius dubbed Danny “Little Badger” and is a huge Green Bay Packers fan, too, thanks to writer Steve Marmel ’88, who worked on the show.



Getty Images

Donnatella “Donna” Moss (played by Janel Moloney), the ever-present assistant to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (played by Madison native Bradley Whitford) on the award-winning show The West Wing. Moss attended the UW for two years before dropping out to support her boyfriend while he attended medical school.






Carin Baer/AMC

Harry Crane, member of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency on the show Mad Men (played by actor Rich Sommer). In season one, Crane mentions to Don Draper that he attended the UW and was a photographer for the school newspaper.

Published in the Summer 2011 issue


  • Ted James June 27, 2011

    How can you forget President Andrew Shepherd played by Iconic Michael Douglas in 1995 The American President

  • June 27, 2011

    Thanks for your comment! As it turns out, President Shepherd was a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, but did not in fact go to school here. In the film, after a political rival makes a remark about his Harvard degree, Commander in Chief Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) counters: “I went to Stanford, you blowhole!” Here’s a link to famous fictional alumni from Stanford:

  • steve rademacher June 27, 2011

    Rodney Dangerfield in ‘Back to School’?

  • June 27, 2011

    Classic movie! While it’s true that UW appeared in the 1986 comedy “Back to School,” Dangerfield’s character, Thornton Melon, attended the fictitious Grand Lakes University. To learn more, read our recent article on the 25th anniversary of the movie being filmed here,

  • Sarah June 27, 2011

    Julia Stiles’ character from the movie The Prince and Me. The movie is set at UW, along with Manitowoc (which was laughable since it was badly misrepresented) and the country of Denmark. The character did graduate from UW at the end of the movie.

  • Rich June 27, 2011

    The TV show “Ed” had a character that went to the (non-existent) UW Dental School in one of the later seasons.

    The TV show “Happy Endings” had a character that talked about his college days while wearing a Badger shirt and watching a UW vs Northwestern football game on TV (sort of implying he was an alumnus) in one of the early episodes.

  • josh June 27, 2011

    Did any of the parents or kids from That 70s Show go to UW? It definitely was mentioned a number of times, there was a Bucky in the background, and in later episodes they talked about going to school there.

  • June 27, 2011

    Eric Forman’s older sister, Laurie, attended UW-Madison, but apparently did not last long…
    Kitty: Oh, you’re wearing your “University of Wisconsin” sweatshirt.
    Laurie: Yeah, mother, I went there.
    Kitty: No. You flunked out of there. You know, you might as well wear your “University of I Wasted My Father’s Money” sweatshirt!

  • Abigail June 27, 2011

    There was a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article about fictional characters’ alma maters. It talked about the implications about the character based on the assumptions about those real colleges.

    I always thought that Donna Moss was the quintessential Badger, she is very smart, can talk about anything under the sun and research anything too. She is well rounded and not afraid to take risks, I always thought it made perfect sense that she had attended UW.

  • Emma June 27, 2011

    Rachel Bilson’s character in “The Last Kiss,” which also takes place in Madison and at the UW

  • Nathan June 27, 2011

    Wasn’t Johnny Depp’s character from “The Tourist” a math teacher at UW?

  • June 28, 2011

    From what we can tell, Depp’s character is described as a “math teacher from Wisconsin,” but “The Tourist” was directed by UW alum Michael Mann ’65!

  • Tom July 24, 2011

    Helen Hunt’s character in “Project X” was from UW. Wasn’t there an article in the alumni magazine about providing props for the movie?

    “The Tourist” was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

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