30 Rockefeller Center. Photo: Christopher Postlewaite
Plenty of future New Yorkers and NYC visitors form their first impressions of our great metropolis by watching it on the small screen. Sometimes they’re so compelled by the fun their favorite fictional (or heavily edited “reality”) characters are having that they have no choice but to come see the real five boroughs for themselves.
Which shows are the most effective at moving viewers from their couches and recliners to the airplanes and trains that bring them to New York City? We’ve set out to rank them, and have assembled the top 15 after days of exhaustive research.
Yeah, we left Friends off the list.
We did not do this solely to encourage Facebook comments like, “Hey! What about Friends?!” It’s also because while Friends is a fun show, we feel it derived its New York flavor less from storylines and more from exteriors. Our trusted experts felt that the 15 shows that made the cut did more to capture the essence of life in New York City. Read on and see what you think. –Jonathan Zeller
For fans of: Nihilism, nitpicking, selfishness
New Yorkiest episode: “The Subway” (season 3, episode 13) revolves around the gang’s adventures on the City’s mass transit system. Lines like “we’re stopping for rats” will resonate for regular NYC commuters, but are written so vividly and delivered with such conviction that they also make people laugh who’ve never transferred to the A at Hoyt-Schermerhorn.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer have their shortcomings as people, but they were fascinating to watch—and their show (while mostly shot in Los Angeles) captured the character of the City and its fast-paced, anxious day-to-day life: the lines, the awkward, sometimes exciting encounters with strangers and celebrities, and the sense that anything can happen. Executives initially feared it was and, yes, “too Jewish.” Years later, it’s safe to say they made the right choice overcoming that hesitation. We’ve called it the before, and we still haven’t changed our minds.
It’s the real real Peterman.
The soup stand that inspired the “Soup Nazi” has gone corporate, but it’s still open.
It’s the place that provides the famous facade for Monk’s Café. –JZ
For fans of: Williamsburg, Bushwick, Greenpoint, and trust-fund bohemia
New Yorkiest quote: In the show’s first season, Hannah and company go to a raging late-night club in Bushwick where all sorts of drama goes down—so much that Marnie declares: “I am never coming back to Bushwick…ever!”
Why you’ll pack your bags: Girls inspired countless 20-somethings with liberal arts degrees to descend upon Greenpoint and start singing in cafés. Want to be a voice of a generation? This is the place to go.
Where Hannah works for a hot minute in season 1.
While you still can.
Stands in as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop while Hannah’s there. —Brian Sloan
Sex and the City
For fans of: The high life, high heels, cosmos
New Yorkiest episode: “Anchors Away” (season 5, episode 1), the first episode shot after 9/11, brought the girls to a crossroads when it comes to relationships. Charlotte contemplates having more than one great love; Miranda accepts her new role as full-time mother who isn’t dating; and Samantha gets revenge on one of the only men she ever loved, Richard. She also utters the unforgettable “dirty martini, dirty bastard” after throwing a drink in his face in public. Fortunately for the ladies, it’s Fleet Week and the City is teeming with eligible military men. This is also the episode where Carrie claims Manhattan as her one true love.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Sex and the City made being a single woman living in New York City seem like fun. The City was a playground where Carrie Bradshaw and her crew—Charlotte York, Samantha Jones and Miranda Hobbes—would run around town and shop for designer shoes, date a parade of men and share their stories over cosmopolitans, a drink made popular by the show. Carrie fever, as Jay Z once referred to it in a song, was at an all-time-high in the early 2000s—and the allure of living like Bradshaw (lots of shoes, no roommates and an Upper East Side apartment with a walk-in-closet) remains to this day.
Carrie’s Apartment, 66 Perry Street, Manhattan The “Upper East Side” one-bedroom abode where Carrie pens her newspaper column is actually in the West Village. Be courteous—real people live here.
Where Carrie and Mr. Big meet in the finale of the third season. Carrie tumbles into the pond trying to dodge her ex, having promised Miranda she wouldn’t kiss him.
This Michelin-starred restaurant is where the marriage-phobic Big breaks the news of his engagement to his ex-girlfriend to Carrie. She abruptly ends the lunch by storming out, knocking over a chair and telling Big off. –Christina Parrella
Billy on the Street
For fans of: Brashness, obscure pop culture references, celebrity sightings, people-watching, yelling
New Yorkiest episode: In season 4’s “The Julianne Moore Acting Attack!” Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore competes with costumed Times Square characters for tips—performing some of her famous monologues. Perhaps the New Yorkiest part of all is how unimpressed New Yorkers are about meeting Julianne Moore. It’s true: we see famous people all the time. NBD.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Anytime you’re in New York City, there’s the very real possibility that you could meet celebrities (including Billy!) on the street. Just don’t make a thing out of it. If you do run into Billy, you can win $1 playing his highly subjective pop culture “trivia” game, “For a Dollar.” –Alyson Penn
For fans of: The ’90s, NYC as college town
New Yorkiest episode: In the pilot, Felicity—played by a frizzy-haired Keri Russell—follows her high school crush, Ben, to the University of New York (which bears a suspicious resemblance to the real NYU). She even bonds with him on a rooftop overlooking the city, just as all NYU freshmen are contractually obligated to do during their first semester.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Felicity looks at the City with a wide-eyed wonder that’s familiar to anyone seeing all the City’s major sights for the very first time. Bring your own Lisa Loeb/Sarah McLachlan mixtape for proper musical accompaniment.
: Where Felicity had a part-time job (though the one on University Place has closed).
: The unofficial campus green of UNY/NYU. –BS
For fans of: Hard work, living cartoons, misunderstood genius
New Yorkiest episode: In “The Tuxedo Begins” (season 6, episode 7), Jack Donaghy considers a run for mayor after finding himself a victim of street crime. Meanwhile, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) learns that if she acts crazy, she can get everything she wants in New York City—including, for example, prime subway seats. It captures some of the tension that comes with living in close proximity to about 8 million neighbors, and the challenges of remaining courteous and getting the same treatment from others. It also features cameos from Steve Buscemi and Mr. Met, beloved New York mascots of two different stripes.
Why you’ll pack your bags: 30 Rock revolves around an SNL-esque show called TGS with Tracy Jordan and features a cast of colorful characters—Jordan himself; naive Georgia transplant page Kenneth; stressed-out workaholic Liz; slacker prankster Frank and driven businessman Jack—that reflect the excitement of the City. Throw in scenes involving conflict on the line for street hot dogs (which Liz alleviates by buying all of them so a line-cutter can’t have any), Liz’s deadbeat boyfriend unexpectedly becoming a “Subway Hero” and Tracy’s past as a subway pail drummer, and you have a show that makes the City look like a whole lot of weird fun. It can be cartoonish at times—but take it from us, so can New York.
Where most of the show takes place. You can see the real Saturday Night Live, Tonight Show and Late Night tape there.
Site of a key Liz Lemon relationship fight and—though you can find Ikeas all around the world—a good place to see great waterfront views.
Where Jack tries to neutralize a pint-size corporate rival by poisoning her with a love of marine biology. Angling for that CEO job? You can try the same thing. Hopefully it works better for you. –JZ
Real Housewives of New York City
For fans of: The Upper East Side, drama (of the decidedly non-Shakespearean variety)
New Yorkiest episode: The Real Housewives love their fund-raisers and cocktail parties, and there’s plenty of liquor at both. In “All How You Spin It” (season 5, episode 12), Aviva Drescher hosts a charity cycling event at SoulCycle to raise funds for children in need of prosthetics. The alcohol-fueled spinning class proves to be a dud when Sonja and Ramona are no-shows. Later in the episode, Sonja throws an engagement party for the at the Sanctuary Hotel.
Why you’ll pack your bags: These rich, superficial and wholly unstable women exist to make our lives seem normal. They live among us in the City, where they catch spouses cheating at the Regency Hotel, toss their dead dogs’ ashes into the East River and throw prosthetic limbs at one another at Le Cirque. Who wouldn’t want to see where it all goes down?
The Mexican restaurant where Bethenny Frankel uttered her famous catchphrase “Get off my jock.”
Aviva sends her prosthetic limb flying during the season 6 finale at this swanky eatery after Heather Thompson calls her “fake and artificial.”
This posh restaurant with a is a Real Housewives favorite. In season 7, episode 3, it’s where Frankel utters the immortal words: “That is so 2000 and who cares?” –CP
For fans of: Bummers, late nights, stand-up comedy
New Yorkiest moments: Louie’s late-night dinner with his daughters at Veselka in “Night Out” (season 1, episode 13) captures the appeal of a neighborhood like the East Village, where you never have to head back in for the night if you’re not ready. In this case, the Ukranian diner was there for Louie after a particularly bad date. Honorable mention goes to Todd Barry’s description of life as a single, childless artist in “Elevator, Part 5” (season 4, episode 8).
Why you’ll pack your bags: While the show is often grimy, pessimistic and surreal, it does capture an exciting side of the City that you’ll find in its comedy clubs and other after-dark hangouts. We right before season 4.
There’s a small chance you might actually see Louie at the club he enters at the end of the title sequence; there’s a very strong chance you’ll see good comedy sets.
Louie follows an aggressive teenager home on this boat in “Bully” (season 1, episode 9) and discovers the kid has problems of his own. Please don't follow anyone, but do enjoy the free ride and pleasant views.
In “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 2)” (season 3, episode 5), Louie and Parker Posey gorge on smoked fish, bagels, babka and other Jewish favorites at this appetizing Lower East Side shop. We’d recommend doing the same. –JZ
For fans of: Neighborhoods, life lessons, Muppets and humans coexisting peacefully
New Yorkiest scene and line: Gordon and Snuffy run the New York City Marathon (season 15, episode 1)
Why you’ll pack your bags: The denizens of Sesame Street—Big Bird, Ernie and Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Pepe the King Prawn and a bunch of folks who can sing—are familiar the world over. They should be; they’re the people in your neighborhood. That neighborhood is New York City, and all its little districts that have corner shops and soda fountains, local restaurants and parks, and town houses with stoops. For decades, Sesame Street—and NYC—has been where people come to complain about , catch an , lose things at the , hear sing on their doorstep and, more recently, follow Murray to learn the fascinating stories behind some NYC professions (see video below). It’s also filmed in a studio that dates back to Queens’ 1920s heyday for moviemaking.—Andrew Rosenberg
(see item no. 7)
For fans of: Millennial humor, friendship, tight budgets
New Yorkiest episode: That's “Working Girls” (season 1, episode 3), in which Abbi’s package is mistakenly delivered to North Brother Island (a real place). She takes a subway, bus and water taxi to get there, only to find out she needs ID to retrieve it.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Abbi and Ilana show that even though life in NYC as a young person on a budget can be crazy, it’s also worthwhile.
In “Wisdom Teeth” (season 2, episode 3), Abbi explores the new .
In “Kirk Steele” (season 2, episode 3), Abbi and Ilana sell clothes to .
In “St. Marks” (season 2 finale), the women head to a BYOB spot on .
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015–present)
For fans of: Fish-out-of-water stories, wacky characters, 30 Rock, celebrity cameos
New Yorkiest episode: In “Kimmy Drives a Car!” (season 2, episode 6), Lillian (Carol Kane) tries to get the hipsters out of her northern Manhattan neighborhood and fight gentrification. One memorable scene is when the hipster couple (staying in Kimmy’s apartment) tries to enter a nonexistent speakeasy in an F-rated restaurant in the neighborhood (for the record, no restaurant in NYC actually has an “F”—they’re shut down if they fail a health inspection). Fittingly, the hipsters are portrayed by Girls’ costars and real-life couple Zosia Mamet and Evan Jonigkeit.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Kimmy is just like many New York newcomers—an outsider with a positive attitude, a love of life and a fashion sense given to bright colors. She’s making the most of the big city, and so can you.
Unfortunately, East Dogmouth, where Kimmy lives, doesn’t exist. However, the apartment scenes are filmed in .
To see the glam neighborhood that Jacquelyn lives in, head for the posh .
Also, who doesn’t want to visit a year-round Christmas store (where Kimmy works)? in Manhattan’s Little Italy is allegedly where they filmed. –AP
All in the Family
All in the Family/The Jeffersons (1971–1979/1975–1985)
For fans of: “The good old days,” ungentrified NYC, cab rides, deluxe apartments
New Yorkiest line: “I’m out there every day…in the smelting pot they call New York,” Archie Bunker (season 3, episode 3)
Why you’ll pack your bags:
You can actually check out, from the street at least, the Bunker and Jefferson residences; the former is at 704 Hauser St., in Astoria, Queens, and the latter the , at 185 E. 85th St., on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Archie Bunker is, of course, a working-class curmudgeon and an equal-opportunity bigot. He drives cabs (with passengers including, in “Sammy’s Visit,” season 2, episode 21, Sammy Davis Jr.), loads on the docks, eventually buys the bar he and his wife used to frequent (“Edith’s Night Out,” season 6, episode 24) and is generally miserable—something all the more striking due to the sunny disposition of his spouse. The Jeffersons are his neighbors (George just as hostile as Archie) who made the upwardly mobile transition to Manhattan, and to their own series. Both shows celebrate New York characters and what it means to make it in the City. —AR
For fans of: Madison Avenue, old New York, martinis (three of them, at lunch)
New Yorkiest moment: When Peggy looks for an apartment on the Upper East Side in 1968 (in season 6, episode 5), the real estate agent mentions the future Second Avenue subway as a selling point: “Believe me, when they finish the Second Avenue subway, this apartment will quadruple in value.” Almost 50 years later, the oft-delayed line is finally a reality and will open to riders in .
Why you’ll pack your bags: For a series that took a sober (hey-o!) view of the City’s past, this dark drama has generated plenty of nostalgia for old New York. While some of its locations (like the original Copacabana Club) are lost to history, many are still around and worth checking out for a blast from NYC’s ’60s past.
, for Sterling soups (see season 1, episode 7).
, home to the Sterling Cooper ad agency.
, where Peggy and her boyfriend Abe have a fateful dinner. –BS
Master of None
For fans of: New perspectives, Williamsburg, millennial angst
New Yorkiest scene: Aziz loves his food—and during one scene in “Finale” (season 1, episode 10), he spends so much time Googling where to get the best taco that the place is closed when he finally goes. “This is supposed to be the best taco,” he laments. “What am I supposed to do now? Go eat the second-best taco like some kinda a**hole?” This is a surprisingly common NYC dilemma. Just go get something. It’ll be good.
Why you’ll pack your bags: Ansari captures the excitement of a city where you can meet anyone at any time, work to get your big break, muse about life’s tough choices and eat in really cool restaurants.
This Williamsburg restaurant is one of Ansari’s favorite spots.
See where Dev and Kelvin eat dinner with their parents in “Parents” (season 1, episode 2). –AP
For fans of: Group dynamics, the gritty City
New Yorkiest episode: “Power Failure” (season 3, episode 9). Half a year in advance of NYC’s most famous real-life blackout, the guys at the station show how to deal with a power outage. Honorable mention: “The Mole,” season 2, episode 22. Detectives Wojo and Harris show up at the precinct after they’ve chased a perpetrator into the sewer (where it turns out an alligator ).
Why you’ll pack your bags: For a start, that deep, funky bass line over the opening credits, which begin with a lingering shot of the Lower Manhattan skyline (Twin Towers prominently included). The sitcom, set in a Greenwich Village police station, rarely ventured onto the streets that its cast of ethnically diverse characters patrolled—it was very “talky,” and outside of the setting shots, it was filmed in an LA studio—but it reflected the City’s diversity and times that were a-changing. In “Hash” (season 3, episode 11), some of the detectives mistakenly sample some mind-altering brownies, and in “Inquisition” (season 6, episode 1), one of the detectives comes out to Captain Miller; indeed, the show had featured a recurring gay character (who was presented in a somewhat dated, stereotypical fashion) in its earliest seasons. It was ahead of the curve in that respect. There have been lots of cop shows set in NYC—NYPD Blue, the various Law and Orders and Brooklyn Nine-Nine among them—but many police officers cite this portrayal as perhaps the . —AR