Friday, November 27, 2009

TV Rebels: TV Dinners - Culinary Pop Culture

It's time for the final edition of TV Rebels. We originally had special permission to publish the first 6 essays on TV shows and actors that will be featured in the upcoming book TV Rebels: 100 People and Programs That Shaped the Medium by authors Lou Orfanella and Oscar De Los Santos...and then last year we got rights to 6 additional essays (for a total of 12!), so today is number twelve, TV Dinners. The book is in the works and will be released in 2010...so stay tuned for that and look for a review of the book right here before it comes out!

So without further adieu, we bring you the final essay of TV Rebels:

TV Dinners: Culinary Pop Culture
by Lou Orfanella

The concept of freezing food for thawing and consuming later dates to at least 1923 and Clarence Birdseye who created a method of preserving foods that allowed for long term storage. It was not until the 1950s however, that the C.A. Swanson company capitalizing on a public's desire for faster meal preparation and its desire to not miss an episode of Milton Berle or Sid Caesar, invented the first TV Dinner. Varying accounts give 1953 or 1954 as the actual date of the creation of the first TV Dinner.

The original Swanson meal, in its familiar aluminum compartmentalized tray, consisted of turkey with stuffing and gravy, peas, and sweet potatoes. It sold for just under a dollar and came in a box with graphics that resembled a television set. Gerald Thomas, a Swanson executive told the popular culture website fiftiesweb.com, "After Thanksgiving, Swanson had ten refrigerated railroad cars-each containing 520,000 pounds of unsold turkeys-going back and forth across the country in refrigerated railroad box cars, because there was not enough storage in warehouses. We were challenged to come up with a way to get rid of the turkeys" ("Swanson"). Swanson thought of the single compartment trays airlines used to serve food and parlayed that into the TV Dinner concept. An original release of 5,000 dinners turned into millions in the first year. Varieties have increased and imitators have been abundant, but Swanson remains the name most often connected with the TV Dinner.

New York Daily News media writer David Hinckley reflected when the TV Dinner celebrated its fiftieth birthday. "I haven't had one in probably 40 years. It doesn't matter. My wife could serve me one for dinner tonight and I would be transported to 1959, sitting in front of the black-and-white Magnavox console, gingerly peeling the hot foil off the top of the aluminum tray. The compartment at the bottom would have several slices of turkey in gravy. Top left, mixed vegetables. Top right, mashed potatoes...the smell, texture, taste-those are as imprinted at the TV shows" (Hinckley).

Did the concept of quick meals to be eaten in front of the television weaken the family by infringing on the nightly ritual of bonding around the dinner table? Perhaps. Or perhaps the popularity of the medium itself did that. In any case, the TV Dinner, like the people and programs consumers watch while eating it, has taken its place in popular culture. Microwavable trays have replaced the metal ones and "TV" has been dropped from the product's name, but the TV Dinner remains an icon in American popular culture. "Although technology moved on, the original aluminum tray was not forgotten. In 1986 it took its place in the Smithsonian Institution, immortalized right next to Fonzie's jacket, the two most appropriate symbols of television's happy days. Hollywood followed suit in 1997 when an aluminum tray-along with handprints of Swanson salesman Gerry Thomas-was placed in the cement outside Mann's Chinese theatre alongside the marks of Lassie, Uncle Miltie, and other TV legends. In 1999, Hollywood produced a commemorative sequel, giving the tray its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame" (Dixon).

Works Cited
Dixon Lebeau, Mary. "At 50, TV Dinner is Still Cookin'" The Christian Science Monitor. 10 Nov. 2004. 8 Aug. 2007 <http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1110/p11s01-lifo.html>.
Hinckley, David. "Dinner and a Show." New York Daily News 9 March 2003: Lifeline23.
"Swanson TV Dinners." Fifties Pop History. 11 Aug. 2007 <http://www.fiftiesweb.com/pop/tv-dinner.htm>.


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Monday, December 18

Kevin Can Wait - "The Might've Before Christmas" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT)
While Vanessa and the Gable family gather around the Christmas tree, Vanessa and Kevin reminisce about their first patrol together.

Man with a Plan - "Adam Gets Neighborly" (CBS, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Adam and Andi try to get back in their neighbors’ good graces after no one shows up to their potluck. Sherri Shepherd and Tim Meadows guest star as Joy and Rudy Randall, the Burns’ new neighbors.

Superior Donuts - "Electile Dysfunction" (CBS, 9:00PM ET/PT)
When Arthur suddenly decides to run against Fawz in a local election, his campaign manager, Franco, tries to help his boss bring home a win. Also, Tush and Randy realize they crossed paths long before the donut shop, and the encounter was hardly sweet.

9JKL - "It Happened One Night" (CBS, 9:30PM ET/PT)
Josh and Nick coach their friend Luke (Tone Bell) on how to amicably break up with his girlfriend, Sydney (Ginger Gonzaga), so that it won’t jeopardize Josh’s spot in her coveted spin class. Also, Judy and Harry invite their rivals, Dick (Fred Willard) and Lenore (Christina Pickles) Stevenson, over to play bridge, and Andrew and Eve celebrate their anniversary with their own gift-giving tradition.

Tarantula - "Pajattery" (TBS, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Echo discovers Paja's secret and decides to share it with the rest of the Tarantula residents, with unforeseen consequences.

Tarantula - "Frog Flog" (TBS, 10:30PM ET/PT)
A rift develops in their friendship when Echo and Booty build their own hot springs.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of December 18)

Monday, December 18

  • Jim Gaffigan (The Jim Gaffigan Show/My Boys/Welcome to New York) - Watch Jim on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • Cristela Alonzo (Cristela) - Cristela is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • Anna Faris (Mom) - Anna appears on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Mark Hamill (The Texas Wheelers) - Mark is a guest on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Jenny Slate (Married/Parks and Recreation) - Jenny appears on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Bill Pullman (1600 Penn) - Bill stops by Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
  • Anna Camp (The Mindy Project) - Anna visits Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
  • Laura Dern (F Is for Family/Enlightened) - Laura is a guest on a repeat of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
  • Patti LaBelle (Out All Night) - Patti performs the holiday classic Don't Save It All For Christmas Day on Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Henry Winkler (Happy Days/Monty/Out of Practice) - Henry drops by Access Hollywood Live and Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Leslie Odom Jr. (Big Day) - Leslie is a guest on Steve, so check your local listings.
  • Jenifer Lewis (black-ish) - Jenifer chats with the ladies of The View on a repeat on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
  • Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy/American Dad!/The Cleveland Show) - Seth appears on the BUILD Series at 5pm.


New on DVD/Blu-ray (November/December)

The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Third Season Living Single - The Complete Third Season Alice - The Complete Sixth Season One Day at a Time - The Complete Series Fuller House - The Complete Second Season

11/07 - American Dad! - Volume 12
11/07 - Family Guy - Season Fifteen
11/07 - The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Third Season
11/14 - D.C. Follies - The Complete Series
11/21 - Living Single - The Complete Third Season
11/24 - Grandfathered - Season 1
12/05 - Alice - The Complete Sixth Season
12/05 - One Day at a Time - The Complete Series
12/05 - The Simpsons - The Eighteenth Season
12/05 - South Park - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
12/12 - Fuller House - The Complete Second Season
12/19 - South Park - The Complete Sixth Season (Blu-ray) / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest