Has five boroughs, eight-and-a-half million people and is the center of the world. Oh, you were talking about that other New York. Well then...
New York isn't called the Empire State for nothing. Of the state's estimated 19.5 million people, only 8.5 million live in New York City, leaving eleven million to be accounted for. The state is well and truly vast, being the fifth-largest by area east of the Mississippi,note and the second-largest by area of the original 13 states, behind only the state of Georgia.note While the NYC suburbs within the state reach well up the Hudson River and nearly all the way down Long Island, the other 90% of the state (often known as "upstate") is culturally and geographically distinct from the city, and often resents the association. There have been several attempts to split the upstate off into the 51st state, and just as many attempts by downstaters (the city and its suburbs) to do likewise; such attempts usually flounder on who gets to keep the name "New York". Or even where "upstate" begins - people throughout the Hudson Valley especially tend to place the boundary one Thruway exit north of where they live. The state officially treats the counties from Dutchess southwards as part of the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District; basically upstate begins with the Adirondacks and Catskills.
Just as New Jersey is often stereotyped by New York-based TV and movie writers, so are the parts of New York that aren't the Big Applesauce. To them, Long Island (or "Lawn Guyland") is a place inhabited predominantly by the vapid East Coast cousins of the Valley Girl, while upstate New York (meaning "everything north of the Tappan Zee Bridge") doesn't exist. And if it does, it may as well be a colder version of Alabama note mixed with every depressed Rust Belt town in existence — unless it's a ski resort or campground. That, or it's an extension of Lovecraft Country to the east, filled with headless horsemen in Sleepy Hollow, time travel experiments in Montauk, and people in Buffalo and Rochester who talk to spirits. And then they wonder why upstaters want to secede so badly.
Politically, the non-NYC parts of New York State, outside of the urban areas (where labor issues are at the forefront), have trended more conservative than the city, although Long Island has recently become more of a Democratic safe zone. New York's conservatism, however, has often been of the more libertarian, "Rockefeller Republican"note variety (aka "Wall Street Journal Republicans"); attempts by the Republican Party to use the same religious rhetoric that worked so well in the Bible Belt are typically met with ridicule by upstaters.note In 1970, it was an upstate legislator who cast the deciding vote to legalize abortion in the state of New York, and in 2011, same-sex marriage was legalized on the votes of four upstate Republicans breaking with the party line to vote in favor of the bill.
Also of note, the state is pretty much controlled in terms of telecom services by Charter/Spectrum, which recently inherited Time Warner Cable's system when they acquired them in 2016. TWC/Spectrum has systems in pretty much every major area of the state, including the city; the only exception is Long Island, where Cablevision/Optimumnote (soon to be rebranded under the name of current parent, French telecom firm Altice) is dominant, and the two fight over portions of the city (except Manhattan, where Optimum is absent) and New Jersey (with Comcast taking the rest of NJ that isn't served by either of them). As a result, they run a system of 24-hour news channels (dubbed Spectrum News) that essentially cover every area of the state, with NY1 being a separate operation. There are some smaller providers (as well as Verizon's FiOS service), but they're few and far between.
A brief rundown:
- Long Island: The eastern suburbs, home to happy, friendly, middle-class white (mostly Italian, Jewish, or Irish) families who commute to The City by the Long Island Rail Road. And we do mean white; a study (from back in 2002, admittedly) found it to be the most de facto segregated suburban area in the US. Affectionately known as "Lawn Guyland" after the local pronunciation, or "Strong Island". Shaped like a fish with the "tails" called the North Fork and South Fork. The North Shore of Long Island is rather hilly, while the South Shore has long barrier islands with sandy beaches. The western third of Long Island is actually occupied by the New York City Boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, but you will never get denizens of either of those boroughs to call themselves Long Islanders (except for Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where the LIRR originally terminated). When we talk about Long Island, we talk about Nassau and Suffolk Counties east of the boroughs.
The main road going through here is the Long Island Expressway, or the L.I.E. — and yes, the jokes have already been made.note The first planned suburb in the United States, Levittown,note is in southeast Nassau County. Generally, the further east you go, the more rural and spread out the towns get, with the North Fork home to many orchards, wineries, and through most of the 20th century, duck farms.Yes, duck farms. The western, more urbanized part of the North Shore has historically been known as the "Gold Coast" due to the massive amount of both old money and Gilded Age wealth that existed (and still exists) in the area, with names like Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Pratt, Whitney, Astor, Morgan, and Hearst owning massive estates in the region; The Great Gatsby was set here for a reason. Located on the South Fork facing the Atlantic are the Hamptons, a collection of super-rich resort towns that you may have seen in TV shows and movies. The far eastern tip (which is closer in geography in a straight line to Boston than Manhattannote ) is occupied by Montauk, a small town that wouldn't look out of place in New England — and judging by tales that the government once conducted freaky experiments there, wouldn't be out of place in Lovecraft Country either.
- Hudson Valley: The area immediately north of the city. Popular definition holds that "upstate New York" begins somewhere in this area — exactly where depends on where in the Valley you live. note When most people talk about the Hudson Valley, they're usually speaking of Westchester and Rockland Counties, the two counties closest to the city, and the most suburbanized, home to happy, friendly, middle-class white families who commute to The City by Metro-North Railroad.note
Some notable places in the Hudson Valley include...
- Yonkers: The fourth-largest city in the state. Known for Lady Gaga, pro wrestling's Tommy Dreamer, Hello, Dolly!, and a long and sordid history of racial tensions that lasted well into The '90s (they even made a racially-tinged fight over affordable housing in Yonkers into a David Simon-helmed HBO miniseries, Show Me A Hero). It followed the trend of many old industrial cities, though it never fell apart like they did. In addition to the usual Irish/Italian mix of the New York City area, it also has large Arab Christian and Eastern European communities.
- The Palisades: A long line of scenic cliffs on the west bank of the Hudson River, running from Bergen County, New Jersey in the south to Rockland County in the north. The Tappan Zee Bridge (the only Hudson River crossing between The City and Bear Mountain) has its western terminus at Nyack, a town known for being home to a) a lot of rich Jews, and b) the Palisades Center, the eighth-largest shopping mall in America.Note (The fact that it's not the largest, or even second largest, in the state of New Yorknote probably says something, but we don't know what.)
- Sleepy Hollow: The town made famous by Washington Irving in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was actually known as North Tarrytown until 1996, when they finally changed the name to what everybody was already calling the place by that point.
- Hudson Highlands: A small chain of mountains that are part of the greater New York-New Jersey Highlands. It marks one of the most agreed-upon borders between upstate and downstate, or at least between the Upper and Lower Hudson Valleys, in terms of both geography (nothing like a big wall of mountains to do that) and culture (the suburban sprawl of Westchester and Rockland Counties halts almost entirely). Lots of state parks here, such as Harriman, Bear Mountain, and Clarence Fahnestock, as well as the United States Military Academy at West Point.
- New Paltz: A small town in Ulster County that would've otherwise escaped notice if it hadn't briefly entered the news in 2004, when its mayor (representing the Green Party) conducted same-sex marriages years before the state legalized them.
- Ossining: Actually a fairly nice place by most accounts, but you'd never guess that going by what it's most famous for — the maximum-security Sing Sing Correctional Facility. This is the prison that "sent up the river" originally referred to. The aforementioned Hudson Line splits the prison in two, so yes, the nice suburban commuter station at Ossining is literally in between two halves of a major penitentiary.
- Poughkeepsie (pronounced "puh-KIP-see"): Home to Vassar College, which was the United States' most prestigious women's college (at least outside of Massachusetts) for over a century before it went co-ed in 1969. The state Department of Transportation considers it to be the furthest edge of "downstate", along with Orange County west of the Hudson, due to it being the northern terminus of the Hudson Line.
- Catskill Mountains: The source of the Delaware River, from which New York City gets its water.note Most of the area is kept as a forest preserve/state park, which serves the dual purpose of protecting the city's water supplynote and providing New Yorkers with easily accessible nature. Consequently, the area is home to some of the closest ski resorts, hiking trails, and summer camps to the city — and unlike New Jersey, our campgrounds aren't stalked by masked, machete-wielding slashers. In the mid-20th century, before civil rights and the rise of cheap air travel, this area was home to the Borscht Belt, a collection of summer resorts and campgrounds that welcomed New York's Jews when most other resorts discriminated against them. The stand-up comics who performed here soon became famous for their trademark "Jewish humor".
- Capital District: As the name suggests, this area is home to Albany, the capital of the state of New York and a name that is often spoken in angry tones, accompanied by profanity, and likely in the pages of the Post or the Daily News (as in "those f—kers in Albany are wasting my tax dollars"). Nearby Schenectady is the old home of General Electric, the part-owners (and former full owners) of NBC and Universal Studios; they've since moved their headquarters to Connecticut, but they still have a ton of facilities in Schenectady and along the Hudson River, some of which are the reason why the Hudson has its reputation for being an extension of New Jersey. (They're gonna clean it up sometime. We swear.) It's also home to one of the world's first television stations (where TV cooking-show host Rachael Ray started her career) and America's second commercial radio station, which should be handy for trivia night. Less than an hour to the north at the foothills of the Adirondacks is Saratoga Springs, site of the Battles of Saratoga, a major turning point in The American Revolution. It was once a prosperous resort town famed for its mineral springs (one of its restaurants is held by popular tradition to be the original home of the potato chip), and while it's since transitioned to high-tech manufacturing, it still has its famous racetrack, the third-oldest extant racetrack in the US (Freehold Raceway in New Jersey and Pleasanton Fairgrounds in California are older).
The area sits at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, and is the eastern point on the Erie Canal. This allowed it to grow into a major industrial center in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it also allowed many New Yorkers and New Englanders to settle in the Great Lakes region. Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, and northern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were historically known as being more traditionally Northeastern/"Yankee" than the actual Northeast for this very reason; a disproportionate number of settlements in these states, and particularly Michigan, are named after Upstate New York cities.note The rise of the more convenient St. Lawrence Seaway through Canada greatly reduced the old canal's relevance, and was a huge blow to the region's prospects (and those of upstate New York in general — rest assured that this won't be the last time the Erie Canal is mentioned), but it is still the wealthiest part of upstate, home to over 1.1 million people. It has managed to weather the recession better than most places, thanks partly to its large sea of high-tech manufacturing jobs and companies (including the aforementioned GE) — the "Tech Valley" would likely be considered the East Coast's Silicon Valley if it weren't for Boston being a rival for that title.
- Adirondack Mountains: New York's other mountain range. Larger and more remote than the Catskills, the Adirondacks aren't actually a part of the Appalachian Range, but rather, are an extension of the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, which are themselves part of the Canadian Shield, geologically some of the oldest land in the world. Culturally, they're more an extension of northern New England than anything else, sharing a media market with most of Vermont — and with nearby Montreal, which dwarfs both areas in population. (Stations in the area often carry advertising for Canadian businesses.) The old Fort Ticonderoga is located along Lake Champlain at the edge of the mountains. The Adirondack region boasts a large collection of lakes, summer camps, and ski resorts (the most famous being two-time winter Olympic host Lake Placid). This is the Upstate New York that New Yorkers not from the City mean when they say Upstate New York. The proximity to Quebec means that a lot of the signage in the Adirondacks is bilingual, written in both English and French — which makes the state of New York better at accommodating French-Canadians than Alberta despite not being bound by Canadian language laws. Weird, eh?
- North Country: North of the Adirondacks lies this vast rural area, lying between the Adirondack foothills, the St. Lawrence River, the 45th parallel border with Quebec and the northwestern shores of Lake Champlain, where Plattsburgh, the region's only city, is located. The area is very sparsely populated, with Plattsburgh being a very small city indeed, and the region is in the orbit of Montreal as much as anything else (the most notable industry in the area is a factory that makes railcars and other railroad equipment for the Montreal-based transportation firm Bombardier).
- Central New York: Like many of upstate New York's urban centers, this area lived and died on the Erie Canal. Today, as one might guess, it is an economically depressed area, with cities like Syracuse, Oswego, Utica, and Rome all symbolizing the declining Rust Belt. Syracuse has a college which, due to its good journalism program and (arguably) better basketball program, often gets name-dropped in the news far more often than it probably deserves, and is also known for the Destiny USA mall. The eastern part of the region, formerly known as the Leatherstocking Country, is carved by the Mohawk and Susquehanna Rivers, and used to be the heart of the Iroquois Confederacy. It was of major strategic importance during the French and Indian War, as it was one of the main routes into the North American interior (which is why the Erie Canal is there) — the British and French could easily attack the hearts of the other side's respective colonial empires through the Mohawk Valley. Syracuse also has the distinction of being the largest city in America to get the most snow, due in part to the lake effect off of Lake Ontario, and in part due to the Nor'easters that come up the coast. Cooperstown, best known for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, is in the hilly country in between the rivers.
- Western New York: This area is the site of the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, and acts as the western end of the Erie Canal — which means it got screwed economically when the Canadians dredged the St. Lawrence. This is the part of upstate that most people have heard of. Culturally, the area is more Midwestern than East Coast, which shows in the accent and a few expressions ("pop"). Niagara Falls is located out here, but everybody knows that the view is better on the Canadian side of the river, which means that the New York side hasn't really benefited all that much from tourism. note Most of the Lake Ontario shore is sparsely populated.
Buffalo is notorious for getting blizzards that are gigantic even by the tough standards of upstate New York (though still not as large as the ones in Syracuse). The city made headlines in 2015 when a pile of plowed and shoveled snow from a massive blizzard the previous November was still there in July. Dirt and debris had gathered on top, which not only insulated it from the summer heat, but even allowed grass to grow on it. The only reason it didn't last into August was because the city had it bulldozed. Rochester, meanwhile, was once a major hub of both the abolitionist and women's rights movements. In the early 19th century, the area, together with Central New York, was called the "burned-over district" due to all the religious revivals in the area — it was so heavily evangelized that there was no "fuel" (people) left to "burn" (convert). Among the religious movements that emerged here were the Mormons, the Millerites, the Shakers, the Oneida Community,note and the spiritualist movement, making it something of a 19th century version of California in terms of being a hub for new religious groups.
- Finger Lakes: South of Rochester and southwest of Syracuse, the Finger Lakes are a series of long, narrow, finger-like lakes in the west-central part of the state. All these lakes drain north towards the Erie Canal. The region is New York's wine country, and a major summertime tourist destination. At the southern end of Cayuga Lake, one of the two largest, is Ithaca, site of two major colleges (Ithaca College and Cornell University) and the North American seat of the Dalai Lama, and one of the few places in upstate New York that still has a healthy economy. The town of Seneca Falls is notable for having been the birthplace of the women's rights movement. The region is also the seat of three of the Six Nations of the Iroquois peoples (Cayuga, Seneca, and Onondaga).
- Southern Tier: Yeah, as you can gather, we're really not all that creative naming parts of upstate New York. (That's because all the creative types in the city don't care about upstate New York.) This area is located along the border between New York and Pennsylvania west of the Catskills. Most of the area is hilly and sparsely populated, though there are a few pockets of industrial development in the river valleys (which include the upper reaches of the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers). Binghamton, Elmira and Jamestown are the only sizable cities. Binghamton is the site of a large state university that often gets name-dropped in New York-based media, and the city recently entered the news after a guy went on a shooting spree at an immigration center. Not far from Binghamton is Apalachin, a small town that became very notorious for hosting a Criminal Convention of the American Mafia's higher-ups in late 1957. As one can guess, it's a rather depressing place. The western part of the region also contains Allegheny State Park and Lake Chautauqua. Sits opposite the border from Pennsylvania's Northern Tier, with the combined Twin Tiers area being more of an item in local identity than which state you're in.
- Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Children is located in Salem Center, Westchester County. Interestingly, besides Xavier, the only X-Man from the area is the linguist Cypher.
- Bruce Almighty is set in Buffalo.
- The sports movie Miracle, set during the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics.
- Despite its name, Lake Placid is not set in the Adirondack town; it's actually set in Maine.
- Buffalo '66 is set in — well, Buffalo.
- Dirty Dancing is set at a resort in the Catskills.
- Canadian Bacon is set partially in Niagara Falls, and is about a sheriff from the town.
- The Manhattan Project is set in Ithaca. It was largely filmed not in Ithaca, but in Rockland County.
- The Eliza Dushku b-movie The Alphabet Killer takes place in Rochester, and is loosely based on a actual serial murderer that plagued the city in the early 70s.
- An especially egregious example: the moon Nazis in Iron Sky make their first landing on Earth in a marijuana farm in the middle of the wilderness of upstate New York... with the Manhattan skyline in clear view. (The closest one can see Midtown that clearly at night is from Yonkers, which is pretty far from the actual wilderness.)
- The Sleepaway Camp franchise takes place upstate. While some characters have New York City accents, most notably Ronnie, it's very common for downstaters to go upstate for camp, both as campers and counsellors.
- Yonkers features prominently in World War Z, where it's the site of one of America's main defeats in the war against the Zombie Apocalypse. Long Island also appears as the site of the celebrities' fortress.
- The Clique novels are set in the rich suburbs of Westchester County.
- James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales were set in central New York, and helped to give part of the region the nickname of "Leatherstocking Country."
- The Great Gatsby takes place in the rich, fashionable neighborhoods of Prohibition-era Long Island.
- Our Dumb World's entry on New York makes fun of upstate's lack of recognition, providing the page quote in the process.
- No Safety in Numbers takes place at a mall in Westchester County that is quarantined due to a bioterrorist attack.
- How to Survive a Horror Movie makes fun of most people's ignorance of upstate New York, when it tells you that going north is a great way to escape from a horror movie.
"If you're on an alien-infested Pennsylvania farm, you'll be in Upstate New York — where few horror movies take place, since everyone forgets it's there."
- Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place in, of course, Sleepy Hollow, providing more proof that upstate New York is an extension of rural New England. The other of Irving's two most famous stories, "Rip Van Winkle," takes place in the Catskills back when they were mostly populated by Dutch immigrants.
- While Nero Wolfe lives in New York City, and despite his avowed disinclination to leave his home for any reason, many of the stories are set or at least partially take place in other parts of New York state: Archie (and occasionally Nero) have to go to White Plains to talk to a client or suspect quite often; the same holds true for locations in Westchester County and on Long Island; in Immune To Murder, the setting is a fishing lodge in the Adirondacks; and in the novelette Too Many Detectives he and Archie have been summoned to Albany for a licensing board hearing concerning wiretapping.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians has a camp/training ground/sanctuary for Greek Demigods located in Montauk. It gets similar attention, if not as much, as New York City in the series.
- Billions is mostly set in New York City, but certain parts upstate get some limelight in subplots involving Chuck Rhoades and his aspirations for statewide political office.
- Everybody Loves Raymond is set in the Nassau County town of Lynbrook, and is an eerily accurate representation of the less rich, more middle class Long Island suburbs.
- On Mad Men:
- Betty's stultifying suburban life is set in Ossining. When she marries Henry Francis, she moves to Rye.
- Several characters, particularly the ultra-WASP ones (i.e. Roger and Pete) mention going to the Hamptons for vacation.
- Rochester's skyline, along with the land to the northeast of it along the Lake Ontario shoreline, serves as Port Charles, the city where General Hospital is set.
- The Prime Time Soap Revenge is set in the Hamptons.
- Suburgatory takes place on Long Island.
- Royal Pains takes place in the Hamptons and is filmed there.
- In I Love Lucy, Lucy Ricardo remembers growing up in Celoron, a town on Lake Chautauqua which also happens to be where Lucille Ball grew up.
- On Friends, Rachel, Ross and Monica are from Long Island. Chandler grew up in Westchester County and eventually he and Monica buy a house there and move in with their twin babies. Phoebe originally lived upstate before she moved to the city at age fourteen after her mother's suicide.
- Orange Is the New Black takes place in a women's penitentiary in Litchfeld, New York. Litchfield is a real town, but it does not have a penitentiary in real life.
- The X-Files episode "Born Again" took place in Buffalo. The writers didn't seem to get that the city wasn't the Sixth Borough; the Buffalo cops in the episode had inexplicable Noo Yawk accents that, in the real Buffalo, would only be heard among tourists headed to Niagara Falls.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) creator Rod Serling hailed from Binghamton, and references to Upstate cities and towns were not uncommon. "Mirror Image" is explicitly set in Ithaca, and the park in "Walking Distance" is based on Binghamton's Recreation Park.
- Wonderfalls: This 2004 one-season series was set on the American side of Niagara Falls. (The series was actually filmed on the Canadian side, though.) Jaye, the main character, works as a clerk in a souvenir/gift shop.
- Stranger Things was originally supposed to have been titled Montauk and set in the town, as the Duffer Brothers were inspired by both the Montauk Project and the "coastal-town Amity feel" of Jaws. It wound up being set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana instead, largely because they didn't have the budget to film in a coastal area that could double for Montauk, while the Atlanta area could easily double for the Midwest. (The decision to set it in Indiana rather than rural Georgia appears in part to be more "middle America" and in part because the South has other horror tropes that don't play well with the government-conspiracy and parallel-universe tropes they had in mind.)
- Daredevil (2015): Season 3 of the show used Windham to represent Karen Page's hometown of Fagan Corners, Vermont.
- Jessica Jones (2015): The house where Dr. Karl Malus lives with Jessica's mother is a beach house way out in Nassau County.
- Silver Spoons takes place on Long Island.
- The Woodstock music festival was held in the town of Bethel, along the southern edge of the Catskills.
- Natalie Merchant and the other members of 10,000 Maniacs are from Jamestown.
- Several founding members of Blue Öyster Cult are from various locations around upstate New York: the band only formed in the city.
- The musical version of The Full Monty moves the story to Buffalo.
- Long Island mansions were such a popular setting in the 1920s for Broadway comedies and musicals (e.g. Oh, Kay!, Animal Crackers) that the Opening Chorus of the 1929 musical Spring is Here insisted the show was set anywhere but Long Island.
- Aside from Dolly herself, all of the main cast members of Hello, Dolly! live in Yonkers.
- Assassin's Creed
- The original plan for Grand Theft Auto IV would have featured areas based on upstate New York and Long Island. It was cut early on in order to focus on the city, though references to an area called "the Carraways" (presumably based on the Hamptons) still exist in the finished product and in the expansion packs.
- A Running Gag on AlternateHistory.com is that non-Americans have never heard of this New York state and refuse to believe there is such a place as upstate New York — or else think it's a frozen-in-time place still inhabited chiefly by the Iroquois Confederation.
- In the Alternate History Decades of Darkness (published on the above site), New York gets split into three states within the greater Republic of New England — Long Island, comprising New York City, Westchester and Rockland Counties, and, well, Long Island; Hudson, made up of the eastern half of upstate New York; and Niagara, which makes up the western half of upstate.
- The Nostalgia Chick's review of Sleepy Hollow (1999) had her, Nella, and Elisa visiting the actual town of Sleepy Hollow, New York, and being generally disappointed that it wasn't as creepy as advertised.
- This article on Cracked by Adam Tod Brown, while chiefly about debunking myths about the Midwest, uses upstate New York as an example in the third point, noting that, if you take the Big Applesauce out of the equation, the rest of the state of New York is more rural than Ohio.