FAIRMONT - "As the Corn Grows" is about as corny as it gets, just like its creators intended.
On Monday, Our Story Studios in Fairmont will air the 100th episode of the soap opera spoof on local public access channels.
"The original plan was a quirky little filler between shows," said Jeff Rouse, executive producer of Our Story Studios, which focuses on promoting small-town life in the Midwest.
Rouse founded the studio in 2007, and the first segment of "As the Corn Grows" was shot the following year.
"Shortly after we aired a couple, it became clear through the people contacting us that we already had a following."
For anyone who hasn't seen "As the Corn Grows," set in the fictional Sweet Swine County, it's a mash-up of a satirical soap opera and "Hee-Haw."
The storyline begins with Aunt Ella dying and failing to leave her farm to Cousin John. Aunt Ella is played in a brief appearance by Dianna Anderson, while Cousin John is played by Mark Anderson. The Fairmont couple were recruited as volunteer actors for the local production. Dianna Anderson also plays Aunt Minnie, Fire Marshal Daphnie O'Mally, and Aunt Minnie's half sister. Mark Anderson plays Cousin John and Cousin John's two brothers, who are conveniently identical triplets.
"There are 52 developed characters on the soap opera, each with their own back story," Rouse said, all of whom are played by about 40 regular actors.
"I think you can tell when you're watching it that we're having fun," he said.
And people seem to enjoy it, or hate it. Either way, they're watching. The actors have been recognized by strangers in some rather strange places: the Minneapolis airport, the Mall of America, a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Sioux Falls.
"It's now available in 1.4 million households a week," Mark Anderson said. "It's crazy."
The website that airs the show is also surprisingly popular, particularly with the English-speaking parts of western Europe and the former Soviet Union, he said.
"As the Corn Grows" has been nominated twice for an Indie Soap Award through India Soap Beat, based out of New York City; it's been shown at an Iowa film festival; and it was featured in Farm Life magazine.
So what sucks people into this little 8-minute show?
"It's a spoof on soap operas and presents everything from small-town living," Rouse said. "... If you live in a small town, you will recognize the characters, or yourselves."
The outlines for the episodes are concocted by Rouse and his wife, Denise. Shelly Abitz of Gemini Studios in Fairmont does all the writing and filming.
"She's awesome," Deanna Anderson said.
"Awesome," echoed Mark Anderson.
The upcoming episode will be a "spoof of a spoof of a spoof," Dianna Anderson said, with fictional actors being interviewed about the roles they play on "As the Corn Grows."
"This is comic relief in the middle of what we're trying to do, which is promote small towns and their businesses, throughout the Upper Midwest," Rouse said.