Monday 01st September 2014,
Televisual

The Most Popular (Random) Block on Screen?

Aymar Jean Christian August 6, 2009 uncategorized 5 Comments

155 Riverside Drive from Google MapsThanks Vanity Fair for linking! 155 Riverside Drive from Google Maps

Why does Riverside Drive between 87th and 89th always show up in movies and TV?

When you think of famous city streets in film and TV, only a few come to mind: Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Broadway, Hollywood. I might be missing a few, but certainly absent from yours and other people’s list is Riverside Drive in New York. But as I watch some of my favorite TV shows and movies, I’ve noticed a few isolated Riverside cameos.

What’s weird is that all of these examples — written by different writers/producers at different times — use the same block!

152 Riverside

Wikipedia has three of them: Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, of 30 Rock, lives at 168 Riverside Drive, but used to live at 160 Riverside; Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox lives at 152 Riverside Drive in You’ve Got Mail (it is, of course, a plot point; his AOL handle is NY152), and Will and Grace reside in a condo at 155 Riverside Drive on Will & Grace. Recently, however, in the second season of Mad Men, discerning viewers noticed another occurrence: in directing a taxi to take home the laid-off lush Freddy Rumsen, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) tells the cabbie to take him to: 152 Riverside Drive!

Why this block (Riverside Drive between 87 and 89th Street)? I’m sorry to say I don’t have a good answer. From what I can gather, 152 is not an actual apartment building, at least not anymore (although old Harvard alumni directories from the early half of the century have 152 as an address). 155 is, however, and one Flickr user says the building’s doorman has seen W&G crews there. (“155 Riverside Drive. Oppenheimer’s childhood was spent here. Plus it’s where they film Will and Grace occasionally, so the doorman says.”) 160 has several listings online, so it’s real and appropriately expensive, though not excessively so for Manhattan — $1.5 million for 2 bedrooms? Liz Lemon is doing alright. For her part, Tina Fey lives a few blocks down on West End Ave.

Liz Lemon used to live at 160 Riverside Drive, but in season four she “moved” to 168 Riverside. Why the show changed it is beyond me.

Is there anything nearby that would draw a Hollywood crowd? I don’t think so. There’s a prominent monument down the street, which is somewhat iconic and has been used in at least one movie that I can remember (Parting Glances?). The only other building of note is a rabbinical school.

Similarly I can’t find any substantial ties amongst the crew members of these shows and movies.

A still from You've Got Mail

A still from You've Got Mail

Certainly the upper west side has its own allure as a setting. The stereotype of the New York Times-reading professional who, as a fan of the arts, is more likely to read about it than create it, still has traction. Liz Lemon, Kathleen Kelly and Grace Adler could and probably would be friends. (I smell a movie!) Obviously, Mad Men, set in the 60s, is a different case, making its use of the address all the more random.

Riverside Drive itself, moreover, is one of the prettiest streets in Manhattan. Lined with a long park and overlooking the Hudson, it houses quaint, yet urban, apartment buildings that seem to conform to the island’s contours. It’s “pretty Manhattan” without the forced hipness and bustle of downtown and the snobbery of the east side.

I’ll be on the lookout for more Riverside drive instances, and you should be too!

Share This Article

About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

5 Comments

  1. Justin July 6, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I noticed the same and also wondered what the attraction was with this street. Interesting..

  2. David August 22, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I’m sure the change from 160 to 168 Riverside Drive was something pretty straight forward.

    Either the co-op that runs 160 started to get tired of 30 Rock fans having their pictures taken outside or asked they for too much money as a location fee, so the production comapny moved down the street.

  3. Ryan February 4, 2011 at 6:54 am

    I also noticed it in “Liza with a Z” with the song “Ring Them Bells”. The characters in the song live at ‘five Riverside’.

  4. Ashley February 6, 2011 at 2:38 am

    Riverside must be a really popular street. One that most NYCers know about because it’s referenced quite a bit. Wikipedia also listed Miranda from Sex and the City living there at one point.

    I do wonder why it’s so popular. Will and Grace and 30 Rock I can understand, they’re both made for NBC, maybe NBC uses the location often? But the Mad Men reference was weird. Somebody on the show must have lived there or knew someone who lived there, how else would they know it no longer exists but once did?

  5. Doron July 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    A few Woody Allen films also shot in corner building on Riverside Drive and 89St.

Leave A Response