In wake of 'Sex's' swan song, Gotham TV prod'n gets real

A correction was made to this article on April 3, 2004.

As any local who has stumbled upon a “Law & Order” crime scene can tell you, television production in New York has appeared more conspicuous as of late. And the numbers back it up: From 2002-03, production days in the city increased 45%.

This spring, five pilots began shooting around town, including Fox’s “The Jury,” from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson; and Dennis Leary’s “Rescue Me,” produced by Sony for FX.

A key reason? “Customer service,” says city film and broadcast commissioner Katherine Oliver. In her 18-month tenure, she has been beating the drums on both coasts to make the city as accessible as possible for interested parties.

Oliver knows that many are still apprehensive about committing to Gotham. “New York is expensive for any industry,” says Oliver, whose office coordinates permits, police and parking. “But look at the shows that have invested here and their track records.”

A big challenge this year was wooing the Alliance Atlantis/CBS Prods.-produced “CSI New York.” And while the Bruckheimer Television spinoff will be Los Angeles-based, the series will have a firm New York presence with frequent travel to Gotham. “It’s going to be more than second unit here,” Oliver says.

Although sitcoms are far and few between, New York was an obvious choice for the star of the eponymous “Whoopi,” much to the relief of series exec producer and writer Terry Turner, a die-hard New York transplant.

“People bond a little tighter. With only ‘Hope and Faith,’ we’re a rare breed,” says Turner, who has seen the city’s effect on his team. “There’s a certain sort of pride in that and it becomes part of a whole experience.”

Thanks to the booming reality genre, the local resurgence of TV production goes beyond fictionalizing civil service. “The Restaurant,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “The Apprentice” have all made the city home, and not a moment too soon with “Sex and the City” permanently retired.

Cabler the Food Network, taking advantage of everything the city has to offer, is building a new facility in the Chelsea Markets from scratch, allowing talent like Emeril Lagasse to showcase the entire neighborhood on air.

The list of key ingredients includes topnotch on-air and behind-the-scenes talent, and a variety of foodstuffs easily available. When it came time to discuss a new space, “they really heard our concerns about why we wanted to stay here,” says Bob Tuschman, the channel’s programming VP, about corporate parent Scripps Network. “So they put in the resources and invested heavily.”

More recently, syndicated talkshows are rediscovering the city. Jane Pauley and Tony Danza are among those committed to quarter here; Isaac Mizrahi is gearing up for his own pilot.

“We think being in New York City, specifically Rockefeller Center, is the ideal location,” says Linda Finnell, senior VP of programming for NBC, home of “The Restaurant” and “The Apprentice.” “There is such an incredible energy in New York and you get a great mix of people from all walks of life. And that is true for booking shows as well, there is simply no better place to attract top-named guests than New York City.”

Further north, it becomes more difficult to centralize television production without studio space, but production goes on beyond the confines of the city. “Newlyweds,” “Trading Spaces,” and co-joined “Fraternity Life” and “Sorority Life” have all visited western New York State.

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