Fifteen great New York TV shows
Gallery: New York shows
1) The Honeymooners (1955) - Ralph and Alice Kramden, forever struggling to get out of that crummy Bensonhurst apartment, could there be a more New York story? Ralph was a bus driver, driving on the streets of the city, always looking for a get-rich-quick scheme to make a bundle. And his best friend, Ed Norton, was in on every scheme, because his daily grind was toiling under the street -- in the New York Sewer System. As played by Jackie Gleason and Art Carney (as well as sharp-tongued Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph as their spouses), the emphasis was on a realistic reflection of working class New Yorkers.
2) I Love Lucy (1951) - When Lucille McGillicuddy married Ricky Ricardo, a Cuban musician and singer, they settled down in New York City where he was a regular at a nightclub called the Tropicana. Their home was a one-bedroom apartment at 623 East 68th Street, which technically was in the East River, but why quibble with facts? The fact is that Lucy and Ricky were a typical New York couple of that era, enjoying many of the things the city offered, like the theater, but still struggling to make ends meet. But for Ricky's career, New York was the place to be. Interestingly, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could have put the show in L.A., where they lived and filmed the show. They chose New York because it was more realistic. It was even realistic when Lucy and Ricky decided to move to the suburbs -- Connecticut -- after having Little Ricky.
3) The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) - Technically speaking, Rob and Laura Petrie lived in New Rochelle, outside New York. City But Rob was a commuter and much of the show revolved around The Alan Brady Show, which was broadcast from Manhattan and that's where the writers -- Rob and Sally and Buddy -- put the show together. Creator Carl Reiner based the show on his experience as a writer/performer on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar, so the series was imbued with New York-isms. A character like Buddy Sorrell was pure New York pastrami on rye.
4) McCloud (1970) - This series was inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff, plunking a westerner into New York City and seeing how he'd use his cowboy ways solving crimes. It had a real western star, Dennis Weaver, who'd earned his spurs on Gunsmoke, and the sight of him riding a horse and wearing a Stetson in the streets of Manhattan was a beautiful oxymoron -- and a hit show.
5) Kojak (1973) - Who loves ya, baby? Telly Savalas as Theo Kojak. The series was set in a New York City detective squad and was gritty and real long before NYPD Blue. It also had a good feel for the ethnic mix of the city, reflecting the Fun City era of New York really well.
6) Barney Miller (1975) - Like Kojak, Barney Miller was a New York cop show, but this was a comedy. Set in a Greenwich Village station house, it showed all kinds of crazies and characters that might need the services of Barney and company. As the sane center of it all, Hal Linden was the perfect straight man. With the Village as its backdrop, Barney Miller definitely channeled New York and only New York. You could not mistake it for Pittsburgh or Detroit.
7) Taxi (1978) - The group at the Sunshine Cab Company was as motley a bunch as Barney Miller. They were funny, ethnic, ramshackle and definitely city-dwellers. And the workplace, a cab company, was intrinsically New York. Add Louis DePalma, Alex Reigor and Latka Gravas to the mix and you have a Manhattan pot luck dinner.
8) Cagney & Lacey (1982) - Cops in New York are a running theme here, but you're not going to find a better duo than Cagney & Lacey. And they were very New York; Christine with her Irish cop dad, cool loft apartment and procession of interesting dates; Mary Beth, a housewife and mother who lived in Queens and struggled to balance both her work and home life. They chased bad guys through the subway, went undercover as hookers, they were a part of the city.
9) Law & Order (1990) - In every version, Law & Order lives and breathes New York. Whether checking out a murder in Soho or driving to Riverdale in the Bronx to interview a suspect, the detectives are actually on the streets and interacting with New Yorkers.
10) Seinfeld (1990) - If this list were in order of New York importance, Seinfeld would rank number one. Its characters are like Woody Allen clones; they don't function well out of the grime of the city. One weekend at Boca nearly destroyed Elaine (okay, it was the sofa bed, not Florida itself!) The diner, the parking places, waiting for a Chinese restaurant, standing in line for a marble rye -- it's all about New York.
11) NYPD Blue (1993) - Steven Bochco's New York was more raw and real than the New York in Kojak or Law & Order. He showed much more of the dark side of the city, the horrible murders and shattering crimes. He also dared to show that the detectives investigating these crimes could not keep from being emotionally involved. NYPD Blue wasn't ripped from the headlines. It ripped at your heart and conscience.
12) Spin City (1996) - How could a look inside the world of the New York City mayor, albeit a fictional one, not be on this list? Michael J. Fox was as energetic and spunky as the city. The opening of him roller-blading through the city is an indelible image of life in New York in the 1990s.
13) Sex and the City (1997) - Here was a show that was a love affair to New York. The women lived in, loved in and could only thrive in an environment like Manhattan. Carrie's column was a reflection of life as a New York woman; you can't write like that if you're in the 'burbs.
14) The King of Queens (1998) - I struggled between putting this or All in the Family on the list; both are set in Queens and both are very New York. But what tipped the scales to King is that on that show, Carrie dreamed of moving to Manhattan. She was a Queens girl who wanted more. Queens was more than a place in which she lived, it was a mindset. She wanted to be a New Yorker. Doug just wanted a big-screen TV and wings. Archie and Edith really could have been living in Buffalo.
15) How I Met Your Mother (2005) - Although it's only been on the air a couple of years, Mother is a very New York show. The characters are snobby about living in the city, sneering at bridge and tunnel people. McLaren's is a Manhattan watering hole, as important to these five characters as Central Perk was to the Friends.
By the way, Friends missed the list by a smidge. They never completely convinced me that any of them could afford those apartments on what they were making. Also, when Joey got a job on Days of Our Lives, it made no sense because the show was filmed in L.A. He should have been cast on All My Children -- a real New York soap (Editor note: But not an NBC soap. Mystery solved -- Joel).
If this list could be longer, I'd add: 30 Rock, The Odd Couple, Mad About You, Rhoda, The Defenders, Make Room for Daddy, Car 54, Where Are You?, Family Affair, That Girl, The Patty Duke Show ("but Patty's only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights"), The Jeffersons ("We're movin' on up to the East Side, a deluxe apartment in the sky!"), Welcome Back, Kotter ("Up your nose with a rubber hose!"), Kate & Allie, Beauty and the Beast (the sewers!!), The Nanny ("She was working at a beauty shop in Flushing, Queens..."), Will & Grace (argh -- how could I leave it out?), Ugly Betty, New Amsterdam... Oy vey, there are too many. Go ahead, tell me what I missed.