Southland fires disrupt shoots

Skeds, locales shift; TV news coverage is multiplatform

The raging wildfires that forced the evacuations of a quarter-million people in Southern California are disrupting the production of several TV shows and prompting local TV stations to pre-empt network programming for continuous coverage of the disaster.

"24" was scheduled to film scenes featuring star Kiefer Sutherland at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro near Irvine on Monday and today. Sutherland was on the set in one of the base's hangars when filming was canceled at 7:30 a.m. Monday because of health reasons; the cast and crew had blurry eyes and difficulty breathing and were coughing from the smoke.

The show's producers scrambled to get other actors not scheduled to work Monday to go to the stages where the show is shot, where they were joined by Sutherland and the crew to shoot shorter scenes that don't require extensive preparation.

"By 1 p.m. we're back here and had shot two other scenes," line producer Michael Klick said. "When the dust settles, we probably lost five hours worth of work, and we have to reschedule the two days we missed."

It was not clear if the missed scenes would be filmed at the base or someplace else.

CBS' "Cold Case" was among several other series that suffered minor fire-related production glitches. Its sets in Simi Valley were blown over by the strong winds Sunday, so the producers had to select another location.

ABC's "Big Shots" scrapped a cycling sequence it was planning to shoot today in Malibu.

FX's "The Riches" filmed in the Santa Clarita area Monday as scheduled. The production was to have used Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies for traffic control, but after they were pulled away to help fire crews get to blazing areas, the Santa Clarita Film Commission worked with the crew to rejigger the shoot so that deputies wouldn't be needed.

Production on CBS' "NCIS" — whose stages and locations are so close to the Stevenson Ranch fire that people on the show could see the smoke — was not affected, but producers had to sub a number of crew members who stayed home to protect their houses from the blaze.

A number of TV employees from the affected areas didn't go to work Monday, including CBS' PR exec Chris Ender, whose house in Valencia was a couple of miles from the fire line.

Local Los Angeles TV stations have provided wall-to-wall coverage of the fires.

KNBC was the only station to switch to network coverage at 7 a.m. Monday morning. The station covered the fires continuously Sunday with the exception of a brief switch to the network's "Meet the Press" at 8 a.m. and later with the Sunday night NFL game, which featured news updates throughout the telecast.

"If 'Today' had been ignoring the fire, I would have pre-empted (the morning show)," KNBC vp/news director Robert Long said. "I'm famous for jumping in on network airtime, but they're very good at letting me know ahead of time what their plan is."

After an hour, the decision to switch to local coverage at 8 a.m. came about because the situation "was changing rapidly and for the worse," Long added.

This morning, "Today's" Matt Lauer was scheduled to co-anchor from San Diego, while Lester Holt was scheduled to report out of Los Angeles. But if they feel "it's appropriate," KNBC could pre-empt the morning show as well as "NBC Nightly News."

KCBS and KTTV were able to break away from fire coverage Sunday for regularly scheduled sporting events since both are part of a duopoly and their sister stations — KCAL and KCOP, respectively — were providing more continuous coverage throughout the day.

KCBS did feature live updates Sunday during its NFL telecast and chose to air regularly scheduled CBS programming in primetime. However, "if the situation had grown even more serious, we would have pre-empted primetime," KCBS/KCAL president and GM Don Corsini said.

KTTV also switched to sports programming Sunday — Game 7 of the American League Championship Series — but KTTV/KCOP vp news Jose Rios noted that KCOP kept up coverage throughout most of the day, taking a break only "when it looked like the fire had died down, but when (the situation got worse), we came back on" with live coverage.

However, all station executives said that they are providing continuous coverage on at least one platform — be it online, on a sister station or on a digital channel. The stations' Web sites are playing a big role in covering the story and have seen a big boost in traffic since Sunday.

KTLA went commercial-free Monday morning for about six hours, starting at 5 a.m. But after that, the station began airing regular programming, cutting in with live updates and directives to viewers to visit KTLA.com for more coverage.

"We're using multiple platforms for our news product, so when we're not covering on the TV side, we're sending people to the Web for breaking news, live pictures and aerial shots of the fires," KTLA news director Rich Goldner said.
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