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Iconic TV Shows Set In New York City

Picture of Taylor Haacke
Updated: 19 December 2016
Over time, television has envisioned NYC through the perspective of different interesting characters and has succeeded in allowing the audience into this very real city through scripted occurrences. Whether it is a group of friends trying to figure out life, a pact of NYPD professionals working to make the streets safer, or a decade flashback, New York City plays a vital role in these iconic series because it is the city these characters call home.

Friends

Although it’s been 11 years since its final episode, Friends continues to be enjoyed just the same from generation to generation. We watch these reruns often to rediscover the journey of each of these friends during their adult lives in New York City, whether it is Ross and Rachel’s ups and downs, Monica and Chandler’s found connection, Joey’s growing acting career, or Phoebe’s changing quirks and maturity. Most of the action takes place in Monica’s rent controlled apartment in Greenwich Village, but the friends are always traveling throughout the city for work and pleasure, especially to everybody’s favorite coffee shop, Central Perk. Friends will give any 20-something year old a look into what life in New York City entails during the time you don’t have it all together, but you know you’ll make it through when your friends constantly remind you, ‘I’ll be there for you.’

30 Rock

Tina Fey is an iconic working New Yorker, known for her role as head writer, Weekend Update anchor, and Sarah Palin impressionist during her time on New York’s beloved sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live. So when Tina Fey announced she would be writing and starring in a show based on her experiences as head writer, everyone jumped on-board. 30 Rock follows the writers, cast members, television executives, and NBC pages of a fictional sketch comedy show as they work together to pull in ratings in the famous offices of 30 Rockefeller Center. 30 Rock gives New Yorkers a glimpse into the exciting life of Liz Lemon as she balances her demanding job with her personal life.

Sex and the City

Are you a Carrie or a Samantha” People have been asking themselves this question since 1998 when the first episode of Sex and the City aired on HBO. We can’t resist these four ladies as they show us how to live an attempted carefree life in New York City, mastering every aspect of their life from the professional to the personal. Carrie takes the audience on a ride as she chronicles the events occurring in her Upper East Side brownstone and outside of it through her weekly column in the fictional newspaper, New York Star. Everything in New York looks better through the eyes of one of these independent gals as they live their fabulous lives.

new seinfelds | Martijn van Exel/Flickr
new seinfelds | Martijn van Exel/Flickr

Seinfeld

The show about nothing has taken the world by storm, only gaining fuel as the years go on. Larry David and the man himself, Jerry Seinfeld, created Seinfeld, with each episode showcasing Jerry’s observations of everyday life in his stand up acts and in the routine events occurring to him and his pals. The show is set predominantly on the Upper West Side, where Jerry and Kramer reside, but the dysfunctional gang often gallivants throughout the city causing mayhem in their work, dating life, and just general everyday occurrences. By the series finale, Seinfeld will have you questioning, ‘Why on earth did I keep rooting for these guys?’

Happy Birthday, Lucy | © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr
Happy Birthday, Lucy | © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

I Love Lucy

The timeless classic from the ’50s still remains in our hearts decades later. The dynamics of Lucy and her husband, Ricky, are just as sharp now as they were then. This black-and-white sitcom portrays the show business side of New York City through our favorite Cuban bandleader, Ricky Ricardo, as he prepares and performs his numbers at the club in almost every episode. And what would I Love Lucy be without the scheming duo, Lucy and Ethel, in their constant attempt to either cast Lucy in Ricky’s show or get Lucy out of trouble. No matter how much damage is done, no one can deny the love between husband and wife and their loyalty to their best friends and landlords of their New York City apartment, Fred and Ethel. So, if you’re looking for a feel-good, silly half-hour of laughs, grab your best bud, sit back, and wait for Ricky to return from work, announcing, ‘Lucy, I’m home!’

How I Met Your Mother

Ask any New Yorker, and they’ll tell you this show is legen – wait for it – dary. Each episode brings us one step closer to the conclusion of Ted Mosby’s lengthy story he is telling his children in the year 2030. As Ted leads up to the moment he met his children’s mother, we flashback to his memories of New York City living with his best buddies, Marshall, Robin, Barney, and Lily. These friends mostly reminisce over a couple of beers in their favorite hang out spot, MacLauren’s. During their time spent, Barney is usually revealing strategies from his playbook to score women, while Ted is continuing his quest to find ‘The One.’ Aside from Barney and Lily, the remainder of the gang was born outside of New York, but they make it clear they consider the city their home. Although the finale received polarizing commentary, How I Met Your Mother gained a cult following over the years and will always be an interesting perception of what it’s like to be a 20-something in New York City.

Law & Order: SVU | © Daniel Fleming/Flickr
Law & Order: SVU | © Daniel Fleming/Flickr

Law and Order: SVU

Our city would be nowhere without the protection of the New York City Police Department and New York County Manhattan District Attorney. Law and Order: SVU pays tributes to these hardworking police officers and detectives by giving us a glimpse of their investigative responsibilities on a case-by-case basis. Creator Dick Wolf strikes gold with the Law and Order spin-off, each episode either ‘ripped from the headlines’ or loosely based on real crimes that have gained media attention. Detectives Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson have showed us how tough New Yorkers can be; their strength showcased in one of the longest U.S. primetime television series.

fade to black | © JDH Rosewater/Flickr
fade to black | © JDH Rosewater/Flickr

Mad Men

Pour some whiskey, light up a Lucky Strike, and travel back in time to New York City circa 1960s. Take a stroll down Madison Avenue and witness the creative genius that is Don Draper as he takes the advertising industry by storm. Mad Men has been praised for its accuracy of the time for New York ad men, which comes as no surprise since the showrunner and creator behind the period piece is Matthew Weiner, a man known for his heavy research and detail-orientated traits. The drama put AMC on the map as they rebranded their programming, drawing the audience in with its office politics and gender role struggles. It’s refreshing to see our two ’60s ladies, Peggy and Joan, fight to break through the glass ceiling and be taken seriously in this boys’ club with their work in the advertising agency, Sterling Cooper & Partners, located in the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue. Mad Men is the closest outlet to a time machine that will allow you to experience the madness of alcoholic ad men in the 1960s. ‘A thing like that,’ as Pete Campbell would say.

Will and Grace

The LGBT community has a strong presence in New York City, and Will and Grace was a revolutionary step in the right direction. The sitcom follows everyone’s favorite duo, Will, a gay lawyer, and Grace, a straight interior designer, as they explore their relationships in their home of New York City. During its original run from 1998-2006, the comedy was one of the most successful series consisting of gay principal characters. It’s hard to resist a buddy comedy with the addition of characters comically opposite to the protagonists; of course, we’re talking about the irresponsible assistant, Karen, and the flamboyant aspiring actor, Jack. Will and Grace will have you yearning to find a friendship as tight-knit as these two in order to take on the adult problems that come with surviving New York City.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine | © Eric Garcetti/Flickr
Brooklyn Nine-Nine | © Eric Garcetti/Flickr

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Andy Samberg also made his mark on New York’s finest Saturday Night Live with his comedy group, The Lonely Island, as they produced viral hit after hit on the digital landscape. After Samberg’s SNL tenure, he showed no signs of stopping, returning to television as the star of his own show in another New York City setting premise. Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows the duties of the fictional 99th Precinct team of detectives and a newly appointed captain in Brooklyn. Although the central precinct of the Fox series is nonexistent, the exterior shots are the actual 78th Precinct building at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Bergen Street, just one block south of the Barclays Center. The escapades of Detective Jake Peralta have earned Samberg critical acclaim, and New Yorkers are looking forward to seeing more adventures from our favorite NYPD precinct.