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>.


New on DVD/Blu-ray (April/May/June)

Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season Father Knows Best - Season Five The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season ALF - The Complete DVD Collection The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series

04/04 - Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Fifth Season
04/11 - Father Knows Best - Season Five
04/11 - Schitt's Creek - The Complete Third Season
04/11 - Silicon Valley - The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray)
04/11 - Veep - The Complete Fifth Season
05/02 - Red, White and Blue Collar Sitcoms - Make TV Great Again
05/09 - ALF - The Complete DVD Collection
05/09 - Divorce - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
05/09 - The Wayans Bros. - The Complete Second Season
05/16 - The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - The Complete Series
06/13 - The Andy Griffith Show - Return to Mayberry
06/13 - That's My Mama - The Complete Series
06/20 - Workaholics - The Final (Seventh) Season
06/20 - Workaholics - The Complete Series
06/27 - The Jamie Foxx Show - The Complete Third Season
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Sunday, June 25

Bob's Burgers - "Thelma & Louise Except Thelma Is Linda" (Fox, 7:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
After Louise gets in trouble at school, Linda is forced to meet with Mr. Frond (guest voice David Herman) and potentially could lose her hard-earned position as the Wagstaff bake sale leader. When she finds out that her daughter was actually trying to help another student, Linda is torn between following school policy or her own moral code. Don’t miss a dose of mother-daughter drama.

The Last Man on Earth - "If You're Happy and You Know It" (Fox, 7:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Carol is bummed about Gail’s absence, so Tandy tries to cheer her up with the honeymoon vacation they never had. Meanwhile, Lewis finds new success with his pursuits in aviation and Melissa is contained.

The Simpsons - "Caper Chase" (Fox, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Disappointed in Yale, Mr. Burns decides to start his own for-profit university and Homer is hired.

Family Guy - "Gronkowsbees" (Fox, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Rob Gronkowski, of the New England Patriots, moves into the house behind the Griffins, and the guys enjoy partying with him until his antics become overwhelming. Meanwhile, Stewie begins beekeeping and gives his bees steroids to produce more honey, but instead they become aggressive.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of June 19)

Friday, June 23

  • Kevin Hart (The Big House/Undeclared) - Watch Kevin on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • Ali Wentworth (Nightcap) - Ali is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • John Mulaney (Mulaney) - John appears on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Whitney Cummings (Whitney) - Whitney is a guest on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) - Kumail chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
  • Paul Shaffer (A Year at the Top) - Paul guest co-hosts The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
  • Laura Prepon (Are You There, Chelsea?/That '70s Show) - Laura appears on a repeat of LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Michael Strahan (Brothers) - Michael plays Pyramid on a repeat of Rachael Ray, so check your local listings.
  • Zoe Perry and Iain Armitage (Young Sheldon) - Zoe and Iain talk about their upcoming CBS sitcom Young Sheldon on People Now at 8:30am.
  • Melora Hardin (The Office/Wedding Band) - Melora talks about Freeform's The Bold Type on the AOL Build Show at 1pm and on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 11:30am ET.
  • Alfonso Ribeiro (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air/In the House/Silver Spoons) - Alfonso guest co-hosts Access Hollywood Live, so check your local listings.
  • Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/The Office) - Ellie is a guest on Access Hollywood Live, so check your local listings.
  • Maggie Lawson (Angel from Hell/Back in the Game/Crumbs/It's All Relative/Inside Schwartz) - Maggie talks about Hallmark Channel's original movie My Favorite Wedding on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
  • Rhys Darby (Wrecked/Flight of the Conchords) - Rhys talks about Wrecked on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
  • Damon Wayans, Jr. (New Girl/Happy Endings) - Damon will be on PIX11 Morning News on WPIX in New York at 8:50am.