New York Surpasses L.A. in Drama Pilot Production for the First Time

"Let's Stay Together"
"Let's Stay Together"
 BET

During this past development cycle, more drama pilots were filmed in New York City than in Los Angeles for the first time ever, amplifying California’s runaway production problem and the growth of movie and TV production activity in New York thanks to generous government incentives.

During the 2013-14 pilot season, which ran from January through April, New York was the city of choice for 24 drama pilots compared to 19 in Los Angeles. That was one of the revelations in an annual report on TV pilot production by nonprofit group Film LA released Tuesday. Film LA’s lead researcher, Adrian McDonald, says that makes New York “North America’s most attractive location for one-hour TV pilot production.”

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New York production has been on the rise since 2009, when it boosted tax incentives available for movies and TV to one of the highest levels in the nation, currently allocating $430 million a year to its incentive program.

This cycle, the number of pilots shot in the Big Apple was at an all-time high: 203 compared to 186 last year, a 9 percent increase. “It’s surprising considering all the talk about the death of pilot season,” says McDonald.

There were more straight-to-series orders than in the past three development cycles, with 38 network, cable and digital shows (for platforms such as Netflix and Amazon) forgoing the pilot process. That included 10 dramas for broadcast and 20 for cable and digital, as well as three comedies for broadcast and 5 between cable and new-media platforms.

New York is not the only place drawing pilots away from L.A. Other cities include Vancouver, Toronto and Atlanta. These cities “continue to gain ground on Los Angeles by attracting pilot producers with class-leading film incentive programs," the report states.

There was some good news for California, with a handful of shows returning to the Golden State after qualifying for tax incentives: Pretty Little Liars (from Vancouver), Teen Wolf (from Atlanta), Justified (from Pennsylvania) and Perception (from Toronto), among them. Another prodigal son was BET comedy Let’s Stay Together; the pilot shot in L.A. but the first four seasons were made in Atlanta.

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Let’s Stay Together has a cast of 10 and a crew of about 86. Its qualified spend in the state where it shoots is $5.7 million for a season. By returning to California, it qualified for a special 25 percent tax incentive.

L.A. is still home to the lion’s share of comedies. It hosted 76 percent of comedy pilots in the most recent cycle, compared to 83 percent a year earlier, and down from 100 percent seven years ago.

But dramas are the most lucrative genre in terms of local spend and job creation. A drama pilot typically spends $6 million to $8 million on a pilot, sometimes more, and employs 150 to 230 people.

The Film LA report cites USA's Graceland, which failed to qualify for California tax credits and relocated to Florida. On average, Graceland spent $151,000 for each day of production in Miami, or more than $19 million per season — $10.2 million of which was wages.

L.A.’s share of drama pilots has fallen from 63 percent seven years ago to 29 percent five years ago to 22 percent last year to 17 percent this cycle — a record low.

There currently is a bill before the California State Senate — having already cleared the State Assembly — that would extend and potentially increase tax incentives offered above the current level of $100 million a year. An exact amount has not yet been set, and Governor Jerry Brown has not yet made a commitment to support it, though he's expected to do so if it passes the Senate, where there is some opposition.

Increasing the amount offered for incentives can make a real difference, according to Paul Audley, president of Film LA: “California’s current incentive program makes it hard to attract and retain new pilots and TV series. The data make plain why an expanded film incentive is needed to bring this part of the industry back.”

To read the full 2013-14 pilot report from Film LA, click here.

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