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New York’s Food-Centric Television
The indisputable hub for food-centric entertainment television is by far, New York City. Even though other cities, such as Paris, may be known for their food, no city compares to the quantity of entertaining talent emanating from a single region, more than New York.
No other metropolis generates as many sitcoms, competitive cooking programs, food related talks-shows, or general enthusiasm surrounding food, than New York City.
Celebrity chefs gravitate towards New York to boost their careers, and a variety of network programs, such as Seinfeld, have a subliminal focus on food.
In fact, The Food Network itself is based in New York City with their litany of popular programs such as Chopped, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, Barefoot Contessa, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef, 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray, The Food Network Challenge… to highlight a few.
Sitcom settings based in the city may appear less obvious when it comes to the food motif, but once observed, it can not be unseen.
For example, food was the highlight in many Seinfeld episodes, such as the “Black and White Cookie,” or even “The Soup Nazi.” The most memorable moments tend to draw attention to real-life New York City situations regarding food.
The history of the “Black and White Cookie” (Season 5, Episode 13) can be traced to Hemstrought’s Bakery in Utica, New York during the 20th century, according to ny.eater.com. Making the episode and history of such a cookie, a real-life New York story.
Similarly, the “Soup Nazi,” (Season 7, Episode 6) was a nickname given to the actual owner of a soup kitchen on west 55th street in midtown Manhattan who was quite famous even before the Seinfeld sitcom decided to poke fun at his “unique” way of doing business.
Episodes of the Seinfeld series that may not directly revolve around a specific food, such as “The Chinese Restaurant,” (Season 2, Episode 11) are still very “New York” in their setting due to waiting for a table and the troubles which surround going out to eat in the city.
An article on Flavorwire.com claims the true meaning of Seinfeld’s “show about nothing,” is in actuality… a show about food.
According to Flavorwire, “Rather, it’s a show about everything, and how said “everything” is just a little less important than say, a tiny mint, a very big salad, or the absence of a very delicious chocolate babka.”
Evidence in other sitcoms, such as when the popular T.V. show Friends characters sit on the sofa at their local coffee shop, discussing the horrors of their past Thanksgiving dramas or even post-Thanksgiving sandwich stealing.
Maybe less memorable while watching Friends, yet relevant nonetheless, Chowhound.com makes note of several valid points, such as when Monica made holiday candy for the neighborhood, but was threatened instead; or when the group was trying to figure out Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookie recipe.
There are numerous food references in various episodes of Friends which do not at first seem food-centric, such as when Joey refuses to share his food, or when Rachel and Chandler ate cheesecake off the floor.
While another extremely popular show, HBO’s New York based, Sex and the City, may not have been a sitcom per se; one can argue the show was hugely responsible for bringing uniquely New York trends such as brunch, and Cosmopolitan’s, en-vogue to the rest of the country and perhaps the world. Prior to Sex and the City, there were no “known” cupcake aficionados popping up in places like Minnesota, for instance.
There tends to be a common recipe in the most successful sitcoms and series; they are usually a mix of about six personalities with character flaws. They tend to congregate in a central location, such as a kitchen table, restaurant or bar where they discuss life’s musings, but the success of any series is not that simple.
The Guardian.com, interestingly enough, discusses the comedic formula of sitcoms using their very own food metaphor, “Writing a sitcom is not like throwing meat, vegetables and herbs into a pot and coming back two hours later to find something vaguely palatable. Writing a sitcom is a black art. Like baking. But without scales. And in the dark. You do what you can, put it in the oven and hope to hell that it rises. If it doesn’t, it will invariably be dreadful.”
But what about the rise of competitive cooking? First, look at the rise of the New York based network. “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network,” by Allen Salkin, was written to highlight some the shocking facts behind the popular network.
The book details when Joe Langham came up with the idea of food-related television programs to air 24 hours a day, but the idea was tossed aside; his idea was not taken seriously.
As the founders changed and revised their ideas, they managed to convince people to invest in their vision. But, early programming was the typical “stand and stir” format, which had been done for decades before.
The Food Network tried to reinvent itself once again, by broadcasting a dubbed version of the Japanese cooking competition which was literally translated as “Ironmen of Cooking.” From the original Japanese show, numerous other game show type of food competitions have sprung up in various forms and networks, but none have been as successful than the New York based Food Network.
A quick Google search of Food Network talent yields results of hundreds household names. The ones with the most name recognition would be the likes of Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Emeril Lagasse, Masaharu Morimoto, Mario Batali, Paula Deen, and even Valerie Bertinelli.
New York situated television shows highlighting food is not a new phenomenon either. The hit series “I love Lucy” was a New York based program from 1951 to 1957 where a housewife finds herself in all kinds of trouble while her Cuban-born husband is at work.
Any fan of the show would remember the infamous scene where Lucy and her best friend Ethel decide to work in a chocolate factory but the conveyor belt speed gets the best of the duo.
Another notable moment for the series was when Lucy and her husband went to Italy and she had to stomp a barrel of grapes in order to help make wine. And who could forget “VITAVITAVEGAMIN?” The green health drink Lucy tries to promote, but ends up ruining the whole commercial, of course.
“The Honeymooners” aired an episode where Ralph fed his boss dog food. “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” always had hors d’oeuvres being served.
And the 60’s classic, Bewitched, set in and around New York City, having food as theme in a large portion dialogue within the script. For instance, in one episode the main character, Samantha, makes whichever food she is craving, magically appear. In one scene, that so happens to be a candy-apple, but these food-centric hilarities are a common thread among many, many popular series.
The list goes on, with, The Patty Duke Show, The Odd Couple, All in the Family, even the beloved Sesame Street and The Electric Company are all set in New York City with food as a recurring topic. No one could dispute learning the alphabet by singing “C is for cookie.”
So what makes New York City the center of the universe in regards to food based television? Diversity, says the Washington Post, “The numbers help explain why New York is one of the country’s best food scenes: nearly 200 distinct cuisines, 45,000 restaurants and an audience of 8.5 million potential diners. Making those meals are some of the best-known chefs anywhere, among them David Chang, Mario Batali and Jean-Georges Vongericten. No city has won more industry awards from the prestigious James Beards Foundation, which, like the powerful food media, is based here.”
So it seems, New York City is the perfect mathematical combination of winning the population-lottery, mixed with the very real possibility many of the 8.5 million inhabitants have interesting character flaws in which to write about, expose, highlight or put on a pedestal.
Centuries of immigrants landing on its shores contributes to the city being mixed with cuisines and cultures from around the globe, making it as unique as television portrays; giving way to time-tested hilarity.
Marketing geniuses in the entertainment industry have no other alternative but to take advantage of the masterpieces sitting right outside their stoop, ready for the taking.
This has been a project for USFsp; Britt
“The Real Life Soup Nazi.” Neatorama. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.
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