New York Is Ready for Its Close-Up
By DAN BILEFSKY
The New York Times / ARTS
New York has played many roles on television recently.
On “Blue Bloods,” the CBS drama about several generations of a crime-fighting family, the city’s landmarks have been showcased, with the Brooklyn Bridge and Washington Square Park proving to be particularly popular repositories for killers disposing of bodies.
On “Damages,” Glenn Close’s legal thriller on DirecTV, the city has been transformed into a dusty marketplace in Kandahar, Afghanistan, helped along by the strategic placement of a handful of goats and some retro Soviet cars in a cement factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
And on the spring HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce,” starring Kate Winslet, New York actually became 1930s Los Angeles, the unseasonably chilly spring here countered by a heated outdoor greenhouse to prevent the imported palm trees from wilting.
In the past, New York — with a few exceptions, like the omnipresent variations of “Law & Order” — was primarily a location town, where Hollywood shows like “N.Y.P.D. Blue” would come to shoot street scenes before returning out West. But now, thanks mainly to the extension of generous tax incentives, television productions abound. The city stands in for other places (like the Chicago of “The Good Wife”), and industry veterans have said that the days of shooting quintessential New York shows (like “Seinfeld” and “Friends”) in California are numbered.
In the 2011-12 television season, there are 23 prime-time series being filmed in New York, compared with only nine in 2006, according to the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting. New York City also drew a record 22 cable and network pilots, compared with three the previous season. Meanwhile, new film production, including that for “Men In Black III,” is going strong.
The television series being filmed in New York and set to make their debuts in the fall are heavy on 20-something angst and police dramas. There is “Girls” on HBO, about recent college graduates struggling to make it in the city; “I Just Want My Pants Back” on MTV, a coming-of-age comedy about a boozing 22-year-old; and “Unforgettable” on CBS, about a female police detective who uses her rare, memory-enhancing condition to solve homicide cases. They will be joining shows like “White Collar,” a show on USA in which a former con man uses his criminal savvy to help the F.B.I. solve crimes, and “Gossip Girl,” the prime-time soap on CW about scheming young (and wealthy) Upper East Siders.
“There is just no better or more versatile character for television than New York City,” said Hal Rosenbluth, the president of Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. Its giant soundstages, which once hosted the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen, are squeezed to capacity, with the emergency room patients of “Nurse Jackie” on Showtime providing incongruous neighbors for the longtime residents of “Sesame Street,” including Big Bird, who resides nearby in his oversize nest.
Merrill Karpf, a co-executive producer on “Unforgettable” who has worked and lived in Los Angeles for 30 years, added: “There is just no substitute for the energy of New York, the ethnic diversity, the architectural mix, the subways, the hordes at Times Square. L.A. is boring in comparison.”