Part of a series that takes an analytical look at the current broadcast pilot season and some of its trends and heroes.
In August, New York State’s Film Production Tax Credit Program was extended and expanded to $420 million per year. Several months later, pilot production in the Big Apple is back in a big way. Nine broadcast drama pilots are filming there now, including such high-profile entries as NBC’s Prime Suspect and Smash, ABC’s Pan Am and CBS’ Susannah Grant. That is up from zero last year. (The pilot for CBS’ New York-set Blue Bloods only shot some footage there.) The giant leap puts New York almost on par with the traditional location leader, Los Angeles, which houses 11 of the 42 drama pilots ordered by the broadcast networks this season. That extends the continuous decline of the number of drama pilots shot in L.A. over the past decade. (Last year, 14 of the 43 broadcast drama pilots were filmed in there.) But with virtually all comedy pilots shooting in Los Angeles this season (ABC’s Bad Mom is the only one filming elsewhere, in Orlando), and the overall number of broadcast pilots creeping down every year, the percentage of all broadcast pilots (drama and comedy) produced in L.A. this year, 60%, was up a tick for a second straight year (59% in 2010, 57% in 2009).
Meanwhile, fewer pilots, six, are being filmed north of the border this year (a seventh, Fox’s Alcatraz, shot in San Francisco and Vancouver). Last year, that number was nine. The most dramatic reverse of the runaway production trend is at the CW, which traditionally films pilots and series in Canada. Last season, the network shot five of its six pilots in Canada and one in Thailand. This year, half of its six pilots are being produced in the U.S., with the others in Canada. For the bigger-budget drama pilots at the Big Four networks, shooting in Canada this year is tied mostly to creating elaborate settings, like the magical worlds in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s 17th Precinct and 1840s Boston in ABC’s Poe.
Part of the reason for more TV studio executives to consider keeping drama pilot production in the U.S. is that the current currency exchange rate makes production in Canada less appealing than in years past. But also key are tax incentives offered in the states. On a standard hourlong pilot budget of $3 million, 10%-25% in tax rebates represents a nice saving. For instance, two of the three CW pilots shooting in the U.S., Hart of Dixie and Cooper & Stone, are being produced in states with tax incentives, North Carolina and Illinois. The locations also happen to fit the settings of the shows, which producers always wish for but only get when economics allow.
The Illinois incentives put in place by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich made Chicago the hottest pilot location last year with five projects filmed there: dramas Ride-along (now The Chicago Code), A.T.F., Pleading Guilty and Matadors and comedy Friends with Benefits. This year, that number is two, both shows set in the Windy City: NBC drama pilot Playboy and CW’s Cooper & Stone. Other pilots whose setting and filming location match this season include Fox’s Bones spinoff The Finder (Miami), NBC’s Prime Suspect and Smash (New York) and ABC’s Good Christian Bitches (Dallas). Read More »