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The Greatest TV Show: “There’s No Way We Can Dis ‘Law & Order’”

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Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld on the set, 1998.  

Lindelof: But there’s nothing wrong with that. Where Friends does get points is with the “girl gets on a bus” idea: Somewhere in Arkansas there’s a girl, and she gets on a bus, and that bus is taking her to New York or L.A. And the L.A. dream is a prototypical “I’m going to be a star” story. But the New York dream is different. Friends is the New York dream: Where we all have umbrellas and we’re dancing around in a fountain.

Adalian: And yet …

Lindelof: Everything about that show smelled like L.A. to me. Just in terms of how beautiful they were. They might be sitting in a place called Central Perk, but it didn’t feel like New York.

Adalian: How about a more recent New York fantasyGossip Girl?

Scott: My wife got me season one, and I watched it in two weeks. I thought it was terrific. It reminded me of The Age of Innocence in a lot of ways.

Lindelof: Any show that is still on the air does not make the list. Had we been having this conversation when Seinfeld and Law & Order were still on, it would have been almost impossible to understand what their legacy would be.

Adalian: So no 30 Rock? And doesn’t Mad Men have to be on this list?

Lindelof: You can’t discuss Mad Men—by definition it will win, because it wins everything. Let’s just leave it off.

Rosenthal: It’s Madison Avenue! Madison Avenue doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Adalian: Peggy’s journey, coming in from Brooklyn to Manhattan …

Lindelof: And just in the pilot of Mad Men … Is there anything more iconic than that guy walking down the street, with that hat, in that suit? And probably five years from now, when you reconvene this round-table with people much cooler than us, they will vote hands down for Mad Men.

Adalian: We have to at least discuss 30 Rock. If we didn’t have the Damon rule, and we were considering shows still on the air …

Lindelof: I absolutely love it. They actually do shoot the show in New York, and it’s called 30 Rock, so they get points for that. And there’s Baldwin, who is as Long Island as it gets. But how could 30 Rock trump SNL? 30 Rock is about the behind-the-scenes of SNL.

Adalian: So let’s just move on to shows you knew we’d end up talking about. For example, there’s no way we can dis Law & Order, is there?

Lindelof: To ignore Law & Order is just basically putting on your snooty pants and saying, “This is popcorn, and it’s not art.” But that show doesn’t care about character!

Adalian: Nina, you look ready to defend it.

Tassler: Look, I think there’s a level of authenticity that no other show really had. I mean, every single character, from the hot-dog vendor to the cabbie to the guy behind the deli counter. You’re right, character is the least important aspect of the show. But the canvas on which they’re drawing is pure, unadulterated New York.

Scott: But I’m wondering if just the fact that you’re able to transplant Law & Order to Los Angeles, take that formula and put it in another city—does that disqualify it?

Lindelof: I’ll ask you another question: Which show is more New Yorky, Hill Street Blues or Law & Order? And if you ask ten people on the street—

Tassler: They’ll say Hill Street Blues.

Lindelof: But Hill Street isn’t even set in New York! It’s not set anywhere.

Adalian: What about NYPD Blue?

Rosenthal: Spot-on. But it could have been set in any city.

Lindelof: The thing about NYPD Blue when it premiered was this idea of saying “asshole” on broadcast TV, or showing some bare ass—it was …

Rosenthal: Fantastic!

Lindelof: Amazing! And those ideas felt distinctly New York. Also, it gets bonus points for actually having “New York” in the title.

Adalian: And then there was Seinfeld.

Lindelof: There’s a fantasy New York and there’s a gritty, tough New York. And Seinfeld was able to bridge both somehow.

Rosenthal: The plot contrivances were the fantasy. But the setting and the situation and the subject matter were completely real and New York.

Tassler: Everything from the bike hanging upside down to the design of the diner. I was living in New York when it was on, and you could go to the Soup Nazi right after it was mentioned in an episode.

Rosenthal: I think the characters even defined themselves as New Yorkers by having that cynicism. Which is quintessential to the character of the city. You know, “We’ve seen it. Don’t bullshit me.”


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