The blackout in 'City of Fire' really did happen in New York in 1977.

City On Fire Isn't A True Story, But 1 Part Of The Show Is Actually Real

It all feels so real, though, right?

Originally Published: 
Apple TV+

The world of City on Fire starts to feel incredibly real as you get sucked into its version of New York City, but its specific stories of punk rebels and murder mystery are all purely fiction. Well, except for one thing. While City on Fire is not based on a true story, the event at the center of the new series was very real, and understanding it shines a light on how the show differs from the book it’s based on.

The new Apple TV+ series is adapted from Garth Risk Hallberg’s 2015 novel of the same name, but there is one very big difference between the show and the book. Hallberg’s book was set in the 1970s, and that era was a huge influence on the characters and punk scene presented in the story. But the show is set in the early 2000s. The characters are basically the same, but the time shift really does change so much of City on Fire’s atmosphere.

Importantly, the year change does stay consistent with the one element of City on Fire that’s based in historical truth: the blackout. The original book centered on the infamous New York City blackout of 1977, offering its own explanation for the widespread looting and vandalism that actually occurred during the very real power outage that lasted from July 13 to 14. The TV series also revolves around a real blackout: the New York City blackout of 2003, which saw the bulk of the Northeastern United States lose power from April 14 to 16.

Apple TV+

While both blackouts were real, they had completely different vibes. The 1977 blackout was notable for its sharp increase in crime, much like the more brutal, unforgiving Nicky Chaos of the book. But the 2003 blackout had the unexpected silver lining of bringing people together. Gothamist reported on the communal energy in New York City at the time: “Citizens started to direct traffic since traffic lights were out; they helped each other out of trapped subway cars; welcomed in stranded colleagues who couldn't get home; restaurants held impromptu cookouts, sharing their food and beer with neighbors.”

The show’s jump in time also meant it would be dealing with a much different kind of blackout, one where chaos doesn’t necessarily reign supreme. And that may very well be emblematic of biggest way the show and book differ.

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