Caltech proves hospitable to filming

'Numbers' finds good home at university

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.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

  • Maisel Day

    My Mostly OK Maisel Day (Column)

    When Amazon announced its first-ever Maisel Day, I was intrigued. For one day, Aug. 15, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fans and Angelenos (fangelenos?) could hit up various restaurants, theaters and retailers throughout Los Angeles for special deals, all at 1959 prices. Among the gems: $2.50 makeovers, $0.99 pastrami sandwiches and $0.30 for a gallon of [...]

  • Nordisk Film & TV Fond Announces

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond Backs Joachim Trier, Ole Bornedal, Yellow Bird

    Nordisk Film & TV Fond has announced three features, two series and a documentary set to receive $1.4m in financing, as well as distribution, dubbing and cultural initiative support recipients. Doing so, it highlights some of the key titles moving forward in the Nordic region. Already backed by the Danish Film Institute’s largest ever grant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley' Final

    TV News Roundup: 'Silicon Valley's' Final Season Sets October Premiere Date

    In today’s roundup, “Silicon Valley” returns to HBO on Oct. 27 and Quibi greenlights a new cooking competition show “Dismantled.” DATES The fifth season of Netflix‘s “Peaky Blinders” will premiere on the streamer Oct. 4. The newest season will continue to follow one gangster family in the lawless streets of Birmingham, UK during the midst [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content