The NBC sitcom Caroline in the City was must-see TV in the 1990s, and aired on the network’s Thursday night block after Seinfeld. Though the show hasn’t enjoyed the same syndication success as other Thursday night block shows like Seinfeld and Friends, devoted fans of this funny show about Manhattan cartoonist Caroline Duffy remember it fondly. Relive the show’s best moments, learn more about the cast, and find out interesting behind-the-scenes facts.
Lea Thompson’s First Memorable Role
If you start watching Caroline in the City, your first thought might be, “I know her!” Lea Thompson, who plays Caroline Duffy, is best known for the role of adolescent Lorraine Baines McFly in Back to the Future.
She also appeared in Jaws 3-D, Red Dawn, and a number of television shows in bit roles. She was in the critically panned film Howard the Duck in 1986, and in Caroline in the City, Caroline makes fun of the film. Caroline in the City was the role that helped Lea Thompson earn critical and popular success, winning her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Female Performer in a New TV Series.
Caroline Duffy Made an Appearance on Friends
During the height of NBC’s Thursday night Must-See TV the network used crossover gimmicks to increase ratings. In 1994, three of the four sitcoms in the four-hour block experienced a citywide blackout that was called Blackout Thursday. In 1995, NBC introduced Star-Crossed Thursday where characters from each sitcom appeared in a different show.
In the Friends episode “The One with the Baby on the Bus” Caroline Duffy mistakes Chandler and Joey for a gay couple while they babysit Ross’s newborn son Ben, despite Chandler and Joey’s attempts to pick her up. Chandler also appeared in the final part of Star-Crossed Thursday in the Caroline in the City episode “Caroline and the Folks.” But that wasn’t the only crossover in the show.
Caroline in the City Exists in the Cheers Universe
Friends wasn’t the only time Caroline in the City had a crossover. In the pilot episode, Caroline injures herself and has to take a powerful pain medication to ease the pain. Unable to finish her newspaper strip (called “Caroline in the City”), her male assistant and boyfriend try to finish the strip. They fill it with jokes about women’s shoes, which is a departure from her normal humor.
At the end of the episode, the show cuts to Crane’s apartment in Seattle (from the show Frasier) and Daphne comes into the living room complaining that she normally loves Caroline in the City, but doesn’t get the strip this week. Though they live on opposite coasts, Caroline and Daphne exist in the same universe.
The Unresolved Cliffhanger
When fans of the show found out Caroline and the City was canceled after the last episode of the fourth season, they went nuts—and not in a good way. Throughout the show Caroline has a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship with her comic strip colorist, Richard Karinsky, played by Malcolm Gets.
In the final episode of the show, Caroline is about to marry Randy, a pediatrician who reunited with Caroline in the fourth season. Richard returns from Italy where he’s been taking care of her son and crashes the wedding, but the relationship between Caroline and Richard is never resolved in the show.
Who Could Forget Elevator Lady?
A running gag in Caroline in the City involves one of Caroline Duffy’s neighbors, referred to simply as Elevator Lady because she always seems to appear in the elevator when characters on the show are having the most important conversations. Elevator Lady is played by Cathy Ladman, who is as funny outside the elevator as she was inside.
Ladman is a stand-up comedian and television writer. She was featured on HBO’s One Night Stand Comedy Series and is a nine-time guest on The Tonight Show. She also appeared in a number of other 1990s sitcoms, including Roseanne and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Two Dick Van Dyke Show Stars Appeared on the Show
The Dick Van Dyke Show alumni Morey Amsterdam, who played Buddy Sorrell, and Rose Marie, who played Sally Rogers made an appearance on Caroline in the City. The pair appeared in the episode “Caroline and the Watch” in which Caroline buys an antique desk, finds a watch gift wrapped inside, and tracks down the old owners.
Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie Play Vic Stanksy and Stella Dawson, an elderly married couple. Rose Marie appeared again in the episode “Caroline and the Kept Man,” but Amsterdam died in the same year shortly after the episode was filmed. It was his last ever television appearance.
Caroline Duffy’s Hometown
On the show, Caroline Duffy is from Peshtigo, Wisconsin. It’s mentioned she has a park dedicated to her in her hometown. Considering the size of the real life Peshtigo, that has about 3,500 citizens, this story isn’t too hard to believe.
Besides being the hometown of the fictional Caroline Duffy, Peshtigo is best known for the Peshtigo fire of 1871 in which more than 1,200 people perished. Those who perished were buried in a mass grave, and the Peshtigo Fire Museum features artifacts that survived. The fire coincidentally happened on the same day as the Great Chicago fire.
Celebrities Who Played Themselves on the Show
Caroline in the Cityfeatured a number of chance encounter cameos with celebrities who played themselves on the show. Florence Henderson (best known for The Brady Bunch) appeared in “Caroline and the Balloon.” John Landis appeared as himself in “Caroline and the Movie.”
In the episode “Caroline and Victor/Victoria,” Julie Andrews has an audio cameo. In “Caroline and the Wayward Husband” Shadoe Stevens appears as himself and inspires Annie to go to Los Angeles to try to become an actress. Jay Leno appears in “Caroline and the Bad Trip” when Caroline goes on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Marvin Hamlisch also appears as himself in “Caroline and the Bitter Beast.”
Caroline’s Cute Cat
Caroline’s cat Salty was played by Tiki, a Himalayan cat who also appeared in the 1993 Disney remake of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. In Caroline in the City, this cute cat is named Salty, and appears in the comic strip or keeps Caroline company by sitting on her drawing table.
Caroline also mentions she had another cat named Pepper, but he was male so naturally he ran away—a joke at her own expense about her bad luck with men. At one point in the series, Caroline sticks a Post-it to Salty’s tail and sends the cat downstairs to Caroline’s boyfriend Del to ask for some ginger ale.
All About Annie
Caroline in the City just wouldn’t be the same without her BFF, Annie Spadaro. Like the pals in Friends, Annielives across the hall from Caroline. She’s a struggling actress and dancer in the critically panned Broadway production of Cats.When Annie meets Shadoe Stevens in Los Angeles (the radio host and actor plays himself), she decides to quit her job for a television pilot in California, which unfortunately isn’t picked up.
Annie isn’t so different from the actress who plays her, Amy Pietz. Pietz was an aspiring ballet dancer from Milwaukee, but finances ended her dancing career path. In seventh grade, she was cast as the lead in Oliver! and decided to pursue acting. She was a cast member of the short-lived sitcom Muscle before her breakout role in Caroline in the City.
Caroline and the Cereal
In season 1, episode 20, “Caroline and the Cereal,” a cereal company wants to popularize on the successful cartoon with a breakfast cereal called Sweet Caroline. However, Caroline hits a roadblock when the cereal turns out to look like a very private body part. The show’s writers sneak in some interesting trivia for devoted fans.
The cereal company in the show is named Dartland Foods, which is a nod to Caroline in the City co-creator, writer, and producer Dottie Zicklin, born Dottie Dartland. She is married to Eric Zicklin, a television writer and producer best known for his work on Frasier and Dharma & Greg.
Caroline Appears on American Dad!
Long after Caroline in the City ended, the adult animated sitcom American Dad! decided to wrap up that infamous cliffhanger in the final episode. Lea Thompson reprises her role as Caroline Duffy, or at least the voice of Caroline Duffy, for a brief joke on the animated series.
Caroline appears in the fifth episode of season 14, “Bahama Mama,” as the Smith family watches Caroline in the City’s “secret final episode.” In the episode, she murders all of her co-workers in a bloody rage and laughs hysterically. That’s one ending that actually would have angered fans more than the actual ending.
The Ever-Grumpy Richard Karinsky
The person most people can agree is Caroline’s one true love, Richard Karinsky, was always around to provide a realistically sour outlook on any situation. While most of the characters in the show were upbeat, Karinsky always saw the glass half empty, and knew how to laugh about it.
When asked what his fortune cookie says, he replies, “My fortune cookie was empty, which, by the way, is the title of my autobiography.” While fans of Caroline in the City may have loved Richard, they definitely weren’t fond of his on-again off-again flame Julia Mazzone, who often served as a roadblock between Richard and Caroline.
Why Were Critics So Hard on Caroline?
Caroline in the City was slotted between Seinfeld and ER on NBC, so it became common for critics and viewers to say people only watched the show because it was something to do between those two episodes. However, when NBC eventually moved the show to a riskier spot on Tuesdays, it thrived against ABC’s highly hyped Spin City.
Lea Thompson was often praised for being a great sitcom lead, and the ensemble cast had good chemistry on-screen. Unfortunately, the reason Caroline in the City wasn’t as critically praised at the time or as well remembered may have been the shows it was compared to. Between Friends, Seinfeld, and another cultural phenomenon of a show with “in the City” in the title, Caroline wasn’t allowed to stand on her own merits.
Lea Thompson Now
Caroline in the City definitely wasn’t the last thing Lea Thompson did, but for a few years, it looked like it might be. After Caroline in the City went off the air, Thompson took a break from acting to have and raise her children. When she resumed acting, she went on to star in several Broadway plays and made-for-TV movies.
In 2011, Thompson landed another great television role to show off her acting talents as Kathryn Kennish in Switched at Birth. Thompson also directed two episodes, “Prudence, Avarice, Lust, Justice, Anger” in season two, and “Your Body is a Battleground” in season three. Both of Thompson’s daughters, Madelyn and Zoey, are also actresses.
Lessons about Love
Caroline in the City taught us a lot about love. We learned you should definitely deliver that love letter, tell people how you feel, and of course, throw fruit out the window to attract men. Has anyone ever tried that last one?
In the pilot episode of Caroline in the City, Annie gives Caroline advice about meeting men. She suggests Caroline throw fruit out of her apartment window at men to choose a date. She tries to ask out a guy named Jeff, though he doesn’t show up for their dinner date.Maybe that throwing fruit out the window advice isn’t the best way to go.
A Gilmore Girl in the City
Before she got her big break as Lorelai Gilmore in the CW show Gilmore Girls, which started airing in 2000, Lauren Graham played a comedic recurring role on Caroline in the City. Graham had a couple of other recurring roles before Caroline in the City.
Graham appeared in five episodes in the first and second seasons of the show as Shelly, Richard’s short-term girlfriend who he’s always trying to find a reason to break up with. Shelly always has a great excuse for why they should stay together, so they keep dating even though he has his doubts.Graham wasn’t the only star to truly shine after being on the show.
Caroline and the Royal Pain Boyfriend
Before Mark Feuerstein was recognizable for his leading role as Dr. Hank Lawson in Royal Pains, he appeared as one of Caroline’s not so great boyfriendson Caroline in the City. He played veterinarian Joe DeStefano, who was close to moving into Caroline’s apartment before he cheated with an ex-girlfriend.
Mark Feuerstein went on to appear in a number of popular shows, including The West Wing and Ally McBeal before he landed his starring role on the USA Network show. Royal Pains was a popular show that ran for eight seasons and a total of 104 episodes before concluding on July 6, 2016.
The Creator of Caroline’s Cartoons
In the series, Caroline Duffy is an accomplished cartoonist, but who is actually behind the drawings that appear on the show? The cartoons were actually drawn by an award-winning illustrator named Bonnie Timmons. The real Bonnie Timmons is as successful as her fictional counterpart, Caroline.
Timmons has also done work for a number of print and animated campaigns for McDonalds, Quilted Norther, AT&T, and more. She’s also appeared in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and other national magazines and newspapers. Bonnie Timmons as illustrated a number of including Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and Hold Your Horses (which she also wrote).
A Reservation at Remo’s
The pals on Friends had Central Perk. The buddies on Caroline in the City had Remo’s Ristorante. This Italian restaurant is a central hub for the main characters of the show to meet up and hang out, or take their bad dates. The owner, Remo, portrayed by Tom La Grua, is always there to give Caroline sage advice.
One major complaint from fans is that Remo was written off in the fourth season of the show without any explanation of the writers. Fans loved that Remo pushed Caroline to express her feelings to Richard, and always had her back through bad dates and no-shows.