TV Drama Production in L.A. Plunges by 20% in 2012

TV losses mount as movies, commercials and overall filming regain lost ground, according to FilmL.A.'s year-end report  

The filming of TV dramas and reality shows in Los Angeles plummeted in 2012, according to figures released Tuesday by FilmL.A., the non-profit agency that coordinates location shoots in the region.

TV drama shoots were off by 20 percent from 2011, while the filming of reality shows dropped by 11.8 percent. Those numbers overshadowed the report's good news on overall location shooting, movie production and commercial filming, all of which were up from the previous year.

The TV drama number is critical to the overall health of local filming, because those shows — mainly hour-long, high-end and multiple episodes — employ more people and bring more economic benefits than other types of productions. A typical 22-episode-a-year network series has a budget of $60 million and generates 840 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

Getty ImagesThe numbers confirm what many had feared since a midyear FilmL.A. report indicated that L.A. was losing its grip on this critical production sector.

Also read: L.A. Still Losing Drama Pilots to Other Cities

Of 23 TV drama pilots launched last year, just two were based in L.A., with the rest being shot in Canada, and other U.S. states including New York and North Carolina.

The TV drama figures clouded the otherwise positive report. Paced by upticks in feature film and commercial shoots, overall on-location production in 2012 rose 4.7 percent from the previous year, to its highest level since 2008.

FilmLA measures filming activity by permitted production days. Last year there were 46,254, compared to 45,484 in the previous year.  

Overall TV production was dragged down by the drama and reality losses, falling 3.4 percent for the year (16,762 PPD in 2012 vs.17,349 in 2011). It would have been worse, but for a surge in sitcom production that powered an 11.9 percent fourth quarter increase.

Also read: With TV and Film Production Heading Overseas, Should Uncle Sam Get Into Showbiz?

L.A. still dominates in terms of sitcom production, but those are mainly half-hour shows shot primarily on soundstages. Comedy pilots employ fewer people and cost about $2 million to produce, compared to $5.5 million for drama pilots, the agency said.

“We know that part of the decline in our TV drama figures stems from producers’ desire to cut costs by filming more on studio back-lots and soundstages,” said FilmLA president Paul Audley. “Unfortunately, last year we also saw a record number of new TV drama series shot out of state, resulting in negative economic consequences.”

On-location movie production increased 3.7 percent for the year (5,892 PPD in 2012 vs. 5,682 PPD in 2011). This was the category’s best year since 2008, the year before feature production declined precipitously and state lawmakers enacted the California Film & Television Tax Credit Program. 

The Warner Bros.' movie "Gangster Squad," which qualified for the state tax credit, provided a bright spot for the program. The film, which opens Friday, was shot entirely in the city of Los Angeles and prominently features a number of local landmarks including City Hall and Union Station.

Also read: It's D-Day for California TV, Film Tax Credits: But How Essential Are They?

It reversed a trend that had seen L.A.-set period films "Hollywoodland" and "Black Dahlia" go elsewhere to film. Those 2006 movies shot some exteriors in Los Angeles, but "Hollywoodland" was produced mainly in Toronto and "The Black Dahlia" was filmed in Bulgaria.

In all, projects that qualified for the state tax credit accounted for 5.9 percent of the total movie shoots last year. Among the films that were shot utilizing the program were "10 Things I Hate About Life," "Baggage Claim," "The Bling Ring," "Dark Skies," "The Hive," "Jesus in Cowboy Boots," "Look of Love," and "Plush."

Other projects driving a significant amount of location filming in the L.A..area in 2012 included "Bad Words" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" from director J.J. Abrams.

“Last year saw our industry rocked by dramatic changes in the local production landscape,” Audley said. “If we seek a more secure future for filming in Los Angeles, we must continue to innovate and expand upon the programs proven to attract new projects to California.”

Lawmakers last year voted to extend the program, which has been over-subscribed and provides lesser breaks than several competing states, through the 2016-17 fiscal year. New York in particular has become a major lure for producers, having added post-production tax credits last year, on top of filming incentives.

The tax credit plan isn’t much help when it comes to keeping network TV dramas in California. When the program was launched in 2009, the focus was on retaining basic cable TV shows, which were exiting for other states, and network shows aren't eligible for the breaks.

Commercials production was another bright spot. Commercial shoots increased 14.1 percent for the year (8,078 PPD in 2012 vs. 7,079 in 2011), driven in part by a surge in the number of locally produced Internet commercial projects. Their production accounted for 7.9 percent of the commercials total, well up from the 1.7 percent web-based commercials generated when FilmL.A. first began tracking them in 2008.

Roughly 585,850 jobs directly or indirectly tied to the entertainment industry brought in $43.3 billion in labor income in 2011, according to the most recent figures from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Commission. That's equivalent to 17.6 percent of L.A. County's 3.3 million jobs. The industry generated $5.6 billion in state and local taxes that year.