Last year, Felicity followed her heart — and a guy named Ben — across the country to New York City. Who knew that WB girl would set off a primetime trend? This season, seven new shows on the schedule (UPN’s “The Grown Ups,” Fox’s “Time of Your Life,” ABC’s “Wasteland,” NBC’s “Stark Raving Mad,” CBS’ “Love & Money” and the WB’s “Mission Hill” and “Jack & Jill”) are following suit. Of course, it’s not all that surprising that being young and angstful is contagious on the tube.
Despite lesser ratings, the WB has turned such young adult targeted shows as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Felicity” into hits — last year, the advertising community shelled out $450 million in the upfront market for time on such shows, which earn approximately a 3 share — on a good night.
Another surprise is that all of the above mentioned shows feature young and beautiful twentysomethings desperately seeking love, career, and self-analysis in the same place — the Big Apple. Suddenly, it’s hip to be in Times Square. So, is there something in the sewer water or what?
“It’s a place of infinite possibilities,” says “Felicity” co-creator J.J. Abrams. “I have a view of New York City — as do many people — sort of the way Woody Allen depicted it in ‘Manhattan,’ which is an incredibly romantic place.” It also helps that Abrams lived in the city for much of his twentysomething years.
Writers, of course, like to write what they know and it just so happens many of today’s top TV scribes (including “Wasteland” creator Kevin Williamson who admits his show has an autobiographical slant) have done soul-searching time in New York.
In fact, Amy Lippman, co-creator of the “Party of Five” spinoff “Time of Your Life,” which is set in the East Village, suggests that familiarity and nostalgia are likely the reasons we’re seeing so much of Gen X and the city.
“I think a lot of writers come out of school and move to New York because they have these extremely romantic associations with it. Chris (co-creator Keyser) and I had the experience of moving to New York in search of everything and it’s a place that we associate with a very particular time in our lives when everything was sort of up for grabs,” she says.
But while the trend is for primetime’s young and restless to strut the streets of the city mulling over their latest life problems, the reality is that none of these shows are based in New York. Shooting full time in the city is rarely even an option. Says Mark Canton, executive producer of “Jack & Jill” and born and bred New Yorker, “I think it would be prohibitively expensive. Until you get to the point where the network’s asking you, ‘What do you want to do,’ I don’t think it’s on their dance card.”
Abrams also points out that it can be a very difficult, time consuming process, “You know stopping traffic and just practically, it’s a very lengthy endeavor,” he says.
So instead, most shows migrate East for only a week or two to pack in as many scenes as they can. The rest of the time, producers and location scouts search Los Angeles for that New York sensibility. Interiors are easy. Exteriors are tough.
“The great thing about shooting in New York is there is no bad angle,” Lippman says.
“Every piece of New York looks like New York. Just being on a street corner tells you how little any other city in the world looks like this place. It has a specific architecture and feel and pace and layer of grime that you just can’t re-create on a back lot, although we will try,”
The backlot of choice is over at Paramount Studios. It’s the most popular New York cheat in Hollywood. The only problem is that it’s small and overused.
“You get so pissed off because you start to see the backlot in every show,” Abrams complains. “I was watching ‘Ally McBeal’ a few months ago and I noticed that not only did they use the location we’ve used but they didn’t even change the signage. We had a bookstore called FSB — Fulton Street Books — and in ‘Ally McBeal,’ they went into a bar with the FSB on the door. It’s infuriating. Actually going to New York is so much better.”
It was almost a nightmare, however, for Lippman and the “Time of Your Life” crew who hit New York the same week Hurricane Floyd did. “We had intended to shoot a very big scene in the first episode on Chelsea Piers but because of the threat of rain, we ended up shooting underneath the Westside Highway at the very end of the island overlooking the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.
“And just as luck would have it, it was so much more spectacular than the location we had originally picked. It was the most possible bang for your buck location. You couldn’t cheat. You couldn’t fake it. There’s the Brooklyn Bridge, there’s Wall Street, there’s the Manhattan Bridge, there’s Brooklyn. It was amazing.”
Now though, Lippman and the others are back on the West Coast playing make believe it’s the East Coast and taking advantage of some very different kind of life opportunities — the kind that only Hollywood has to offer.