Friday, November 27, 2009
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).
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 (March/April)
03/03 - The Dick Van Dyke Show - Now... In Living Color! (Blu-ray)
03/07 - The Jamie Foxx Show - The Complete Second Season
03/07 - Mama's Family - Mama's Favorites
03/07 - That '70s Show - The Complete Series - Flashback Edition (Blu-ray)
03/07 - What I Like About You - The Complete Second Season
03/07 - You Me Her - Season One
03/14 - Newhart - The Final (Eighth) Season
03/14 - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season Two
03/21 - Master of None - Season One
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
More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest
Sitcoms Airing Tonight
Wednesday, April 26
The Goldbergs - "Fonzie Scheme" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
When Murray is honored as one of Jenkintown’s top businessmen, his plaque is hung on a wall with all of the other honorees. And soon Beverly is dismayed to learn he has no discernable hobbies, and her attempts to help him find some backfire. Meanwhile, Barry creates a scheme stealing golf carts, but the situation goes awry and Erica comes to save the day.
Speechless - "R-U-N-- RUNAWAY" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
When Maya learns JJ attempted to run away, she is determined to help him complete the task as any able-bodied person could, but her actions exasperate JJ, as he longs for independence. Meanwhile, Jimmy struggles to have hard talks with the kids without Maya, and Dylan tries to get Kenneth to revive his glory days as a high school sports star.
black-ish - "Sister, Sister" (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Bow’s sister comes to town after filming a stint on a reality show, and they couldn’t have less in common. Meanwhile, Zoey suggests that Dre spend more time with Junior since she’s leaving for college, and Jack and Diane decide to rebrand themselves.
black-ish - "All Groan Up" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
When Zoey gets into several colleges around the country, Dre and Bow begin to feel worried and sentimental. They reflect back on memories they’ve had with the family and wonder what life will be like without her around all the time. Pops enlists the twins to try and sway Zoey to go to college in a city they want to visit.
Nobodies - "Not the Emmys" (TV Land, 10:00PM ET/PT)
It’s Award season! Larry, Rachel and Hugh are going to the Annies… while all their Groundlings friends are going to the Emmys.
Lopez - "No Country Club for Young Men" (TV Land, 10:30PM ET/PT)
George gets Hector a job at his country club, but he falls in with a bad crowd of rich kids. Olly's little sister rolls back into town while Manolo struggles to stay focused in his GED class.
Hollywood Darlings - "Driving Miss Jodie" (Pop, 8:00PM ET/PT)
Jodie must choose between a sports car and a minivan; Christine's dream of participating in an exclusive yoga class is thwarted by a loud-breathing celebrity classmate.
Return of the Mac - "The Wrong Stuff" (Pop, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Feeling threatened by newly appointed sidekick Joey Fatone, Joe heads to a comedy club to hone his comedy monologue skills.
Wednesday, April 26
- Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) - Watch Chris and the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on a repeat of Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
- America Ferrera (Superstore) - America is a guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
- Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) - Thomas visits The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
- Maria Bamford (Lady Dynamite) - Maria appears on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
- Henry Zebrowski (A to Z) - Henry is a guest on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
- John Leguizamo (The Brothers Garcia) - John guest co-hosts LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
- Molly Ringwald (Townies/The Facts of Life) - Molly stops by LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
- Anna Chlumsky (Veep) - Anna stops by Harry, so check your local listings.
- Sherri Shepherd (Trial & Error/Less Than Perfect/Sherri) - Sherri talks about the disease she won’t let destroy her on The Dr. Oz Show, so check your loclal listings.
- Felicity Huffman (Sports Night) - Felicity makes pecan bars on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
- Morris Chestnut (Out All Night) - Morris is a guest on Steve Harvey, so check your local listings.
- Hank Azaria (Brockmire/The Simpsons/Free Agents) - Hank appears on The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
- Jodie Sweetin (Fuller House/Full House) - Jodie is a guest on The Real, so check your local listings.