While real may be a relative term, television shows attempting to portray real life in New York have abounded since the first TV set was turned on. Both dramas and comedies centering on life in the big city have proliferated over the years, entering people’s lives with stories about unforgettable characters and plot lines both poignant and hilarious. Every era has had its share of stand-outs, but no matter what your favorite shows have been over the years, these 10 hits could always be counted on to keep viewers engaged, plus offer up a glimpse or two of New York City life.
Two old friends, complete opposites, have been booted out by their wives and find themselves sharing an apartment in Manhattan in this television adaptation of the Broadway hit. Felix Unger, meticulously portrayed by Tony Randall, is a photographer and annoyingly obsessive neat freak. Oscar Madison, brought to life by beloved character actor Jack Klugman, is a sloppy and affable sports writer. Their life together made for some unforgettable television moments.
A groundbreaking, award-winning comedy, “All in the Family” portrayed a deeply intertwined, working class Queens family. The head of the household, Archie Bunker, was an outspoken bigot, WWII veteran and conservative, who was constantly trying to get a handle on the world changing around him in ways he didn’t always understand and rarely liked. Handled with humor and honesty, issues of the day including racism, feminism and homosexuality were tackled head-on. A stand-out cast included Carroll O’Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner.
Barney Miller (1974-1982)
The multi-racial police force of Greenwich Village’s 12th Precinct and its harried captain were the focus of this semi-serious sitcom, which portrayed life and crime in downtown Manhattan. The infamous budget issue plaguing the real-life force at that time often found its way into plot lines.
The Sunshine Cab Company and its madcap, fictional crew of New York City taxi drivers provided unending moments of laughter and bittersweet poignancy to their loyal fans for almost five years in this very funny television show. “Taxi” offered up glimpses of the type of real-life New Yorkers you might meet driving a cab throughout its streets.
An ode to the neurotic side of dating and friendship in New York City, “Seinfeld” provided hilarious glimpses into single, urban life on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Much of the show’s action took place in Monk’s Diner, a fictional eatery that featured exterior shots of the real-life Tom’s Restaurant, a Morningside Heights staple for over 70 years.
Law & Order (1990-2010)
A popular police drama and the source of multiple spin-offs, the success of “Law & Order” was largely derived from its unique story-telling angle. The show’s two-part approach portrayed a crime investigation caught by New York City homicide detectives, and then shifted gears to focus on the prosecutors tasked with trying the defendant through the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Despite an ever-changing cast, the show was always filmed in New York and relied upon New York City extras for the street and court scenes, making it the quintessential New York crime show of its day.
NYPD Blue (1993-2005)
A no-holds-barred police drama set in Manhattan, “NYPD Blue” offered viewers a familial insider’s look at the daily lives of the all-too-human police officers and detectives working in the fictional 15th Precinct. One of the show’s co-producers, Bill Clark, was a retired detective, and much of the show was based upon his own personal experiences on the force. Despite its sense of gritty realism, the show was largely shot in Los Angeles, although some external shots, particularly of New York City landmarks, were filmed in the city.
A popular sitcom about a group of 20-somethings living in Greenwich Village, “Friends” centered on life, love and the pursuit of a viable paycheck. The show’s main characters were often found dissecting their latest and greatest adventures in Central Perk, a coffee house where Rachel, a character played by Jennifer Aniston, waitressed for several seasons.
Sex and the City (1998-2004)
“Sex and the City” is still synonymous with New York City life, at least for those living outside of the city. Centering on the sex lives and loves of four close-knit friends, the show highlighted the hot spots, galleries, restaurants and clubs that the young and trendy perpetually frequented during the late 90s. Fashion trends were another strong and realistically portrayed focus of the internationally popular show.
The King of Queens (1998-2007)
This live action sitcom zeroed in on the lives of a home-owning, working class couple trying to make a go of it in Rego Park, Queens. They are tasked, hilariously, with taking care of the wife’s eccentric dad who moves in with them. The show portrays Doug, a parcel delivery man, and Carrie, his wife and Manhattan secretary, as living a tad above their means and trying to make ends meet. The funny show had its serious moments, and dealt with infertility and miscarriage as plot lines.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.