The California Institute of Technology campus is malleable enough to have served as a location for a Moroccan wedding (“The Wedding Planner”) and a faux Italian embassy (“The West Wing”).
It’s also filled in for other schools, posing as Stanford for Jake Kasdan’s “Orange County” and as the fictitious CULA in “Legally Blonde,” although those sorority and fraternity houses were actually administration buildings.
But Caltech’s most prominent use as an onscreen venue began four years ago, when it became a central location for the CBS series “Numbers” — even though the Pasadena campus was not the first choice.
“Numbers” was originally to be set in Boston, with David Krumholtz’s Charlie Eppes working and teaching at MIT. But when the decision was made to set the show in Los Angeles instead, switching Charlie’s school to Caltech was a “no-brainer,” says “Numbers” exec producer and co-creator Nick Falacci.
“Caltech is well-known as one of the country’s preeminent math and science colleges, has a stunningly beautiful campus and is close to the ‘Numbers’ production facilities in downtown L.A.,” Falacci says. “And for the actors, it’s invigorating to be in the same buildings and walkways that people like Einstein and Feynman once inhabited.”
Caltech’s history as a film location extends back generations. The WWII-era romance “The Very Thought of You” lensed in part at Caltech, back when shooting on location was not all that common. More recently, Caltech has hosted productions as varied as “Starship Troopers,” “True Romance” and “The X-Files.”
In particular, Caltech’s dining club, the 80-year-old Mediterranean-style Athenaeum, has long been a favorite location for films and television. In one prominent scene in “Beverly Hills Cop,” the building served as the exclusive club in which Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) embarrasses drug lord Maitland (Steven Berkoff).
Falacci says Caltech’s administration “was particularly excited and receptive about working with a television show that featured a mathematician.” Still, school officials were skeptical that a show centered around math could be made appealing to the general public.
“After reading the shooting draft of the episode ‘Couplings’ … and finding out that (Judd) Hirsch, (Rob) Morrow, Krumholtz and (Peter) MacNicol were starring in the pilot, the interest level increased,” says Caltech associate veep of public events Denise Nelson Nash. “Everyone who read the script was very pleased with the portrayal of the character Charlie and the attention to detail and authenticity that the producers were aiming for.”
Though there are the expected disruptions at “CalSci,” the fictitious name for the school on “Numbers,” the show has managed to become an integrated part of campus life.
“We tend to let the life of the campus mix with the production,” says exec producer and co-creator Cheryl Heuton. “Real students and professors wander by — you can often tell the actual students because some of them tend to be barefoot.”
The show doesn’t bother to cordon off its shooting areas, notes Heuton.
“Caltech students tend to have heavy academic workloads and don’t really have much spare time to be hanging around a TV set anyway,” she says. “Most of them have far weightier things on their minds.”