November 2, 1997 in Features

More TV Shows Set In Or Using New York As Backdrop

Caryn James The New York Times
 

This city is the place of big breaks: broken legs (“So many punks, so little time,” says Danny Aiello’s private investigator in “Dellaventura”); broken hearts (the heroine of “Caroline in the City” found and lost her true love without ever leaving her apartment); broken grammar (almost anyone on “NYPD Blue”).

And of course it is the place of big show-biz breaks or at least steady work, the kind that Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom alter ego gets. These are New York stereotypes, yet they have been hauled out with a distinct air of rediscovery lately, along with a few fresher images.

This season 20 network primetime shows are set in the city. Seven were added this season, establishing a fictional New York as the hot destination for television characters.

Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, “One of the Ten Commandments was, no one wants to see a show set in New York,” said Gary David Goldberg, a creator of the current hit “Spin City,” with Michael J. Fox as New York’s deputy mayor.

Why was the city such a risk? Glance at this season’s opening episode of “The Simpsons,” in which a visit to New York City sets off a fearful flashback to the last time Homer was in town. It was the ‘70s, a policeman stole his luggage and Woody Allen himself, the quintessential New Yorker, emptied a wastebasket out a high-rise window onto Homer’s head. This time Marge and the children ride harmlessly through Central Park and enjoy “Kickin’ It: A Musical Journey Through the Betty Ford Center.”

The reasons behind the new wealth of New York settings are as varied as the images of the city itself, which now veer from loopy to deadly. That variety itself signals a change from the old monolithic view of New York as crime-ridden, dirty, irredeemable.

It is common knowledge that crime is down and tourism up in real life New York, making it a less threatening, more appealing locale for characters.

But its television popularity may owe as much to an increasingly homogenized culture; as America becomes more of a media village, New York seems less like a foreign country than it might have even a decade ago.

And though prime-time television production in the city is the highest it has been in 30 years, shooting on location is less a factor than you might think. Most of the 20 shows are filmed in California. Only five of them are shot entirely on location here, the most faithful on screen being “Law and Order” and “Dellaventura.”

Several others, including “NYPD Blue,” “Michael Hayes” and “Brooklyn South,” drop by occasionally to shoot the stars against New York backdrops.

The best and most authentic New York shows, like “Spin City,” offer a fresh, sophisticated view of the city as a place of cynical, genial neurotics: “Seinfeld” by way of Woody Allen.

There is no doubt that “Spin City” is shot here. Recently Fox and Barry Bostwick, who plays the mayor, jumped into the Hudson River as part of last week’s episode.

Some other shows based in New York City include “Caroline in the City,” “Just Shoot Me,” “Veronica’s Closet,” “Mad About You,” “Friends” and “Union Square.”


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