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 (June/July/August)

Father Knows Best - Season Six Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete Sixth Season Alice - The Complete Fifth Season Rhoda - Season Four Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season Four

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
07/04 - Superstore - Season Two
07/18 - Father Knows Best - Season Six
07/25 - Diff'ernt Strokes - The Complete Sixth Season
07/25 - Girls - The Final (Sixth) Season (Blu-ray)
08/01 - Alice - The Complete Fifth Season (WBShop.com)
08/01 - Crashing - The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
08/15 - Rhoda - Season Four
08/22 - Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season Four
08/29 - Will & Grace - Season One (Universal)
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Monday, August 21

Kevin Can Wait - "Unholy War" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
After reluctantly settling on a date for Kendra’s wedding, Kevin learns that his childhood nemesis, Terry (Kim Coates), is trying to reserve the church on the same day. As the two battle for Father Phillip’s (Jim Breuer) approval by becoming more involved in the church, Kevin’s drive to get the church for Kendra becomes an insatiable desire to get revenge on his old rival.

Superior Donuts - "Man Without a Health Plan" (CBS, 8:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
The group decides to take up a collection to pay for Franco’s medical expenses when he’s hurt at work and doesn’t have insurance. Also, Tush experiences unusual side effects when he participates in an experimental drug trial.

Mom - "Cornbread and a Cashmere Onesie" (CBS, 9:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Christy and Bonnie worry about Jill after her cry for help on the anniversary of her mother’s suicide.

Life in Pieces - "Babysit Argument Invention Butterfly" (CBS, 9:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Matt and Colleen have a disastrous time babysitting Lark while Jen is at work. Also, Sophia is far from pleased when John buys her a butterfly kit for her birthday; Tim and Heather rehash an old fight from the early days of their relationship; and Greg gives Samantha questionable advice about being an entrepreneur for her school project.

American Dad - "Kloger" (TBS, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Roger and Klaus start having a secret affair after they accidentally end up on an online date together; Steve tries to catch Hayley's pink eye to get out of doing a fitness test at school.

People of Earth - "Why Can't We Be Friends?" (TBS, 10:30PM ET/PT)
Ozzie confronts Walsh about being an alien; Richard gets fired from his job and joins Agent Foster on her search for Walsh.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of August 21)

Monday, August 21

  • Nick Kroll (The League/Cavemen) - Watch Nick on a repeat of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
  • Sutton Foster (Younger) - Sutton appears on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS. She will also be on LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) - Kumail is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Hank Azaria (Brockmire/The Simpsons/Free Agents) - Hank appears on a repeat of Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
  • Al Madrigal (About a Boy/Welcome to The Captain/Gary Unmarried) - Al is a guest on a repeat of Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
  • Matt LeBlanc (Man with a Plan/Episodes/Friends) - Matt stops by Conan at 11pm on TBS.
  • Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) - Amy chats with the ladies of The View on a repeat on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
  • Aziz Ansari (Master of None/Parks and Recreation) - Aziz drops by LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Sabrina Carpenter (Girl Meets World) - Sabrina appears on LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
  • Rachel Dratch (Imaginary Mary) and Jenna Elfman (Imaginary Mary/1600 Penn/Accidentally on Purpose/Courting Alex/Dharma & Greg) - Rachel and Jenna are guests on a repeat of Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Yara Shahidi (black-ish) - Yara opens up about beauty standards in Hollywood on People Now at 8:30am.
  • Marlon Wayans (Marlon/The Wayans Bros.) - Marlon talks about Marlon on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 11:30am ET.
  • Lilla Crawford, Taylor Louderman and Elan Luz Rivera (Sunny Day) - The stars of Nickelodeon's upcoming series Sunny Day are guests on PIX11 Morning News on WPIX in New York at 8:45am.