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New TV drama uses L.A. as a New York stand-in

It was a scene that would surely have made New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cringe.

On Monday afternoon, dozens of mock New York yellow cabs and buses, along with NYPD police cars and Lincoln Town Cars with New York license plates, cruised down the boulevard. A giant crane hoisting two 20-foot lighting screens diffused the bright sunlight on the faces of actors Rob Morrow and Maura Tierney. In all, 179 extras and 37 vehicles were enlisted for an unusually elaborate scene for the upcoming ABC drama “The Whole Truth.”

The TV series, chronicling the way a court case is built from the point of view of both prosecutors and the defense, is set in New York. Yet it’s being filmed in Los Angeles and is one of two new dramas, along with Dick Wolf’s latest “Law & Order” spinoff, that began shooting on city streets in Los Angeles this week, giving a much-needed boost to local television production.

“The Whole Truth,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Warner Bros. Television, is the latest New York-themed series to film in the City of Angels, joining “CSI: NY” and the former long-running sitcom “Seinfeld.” For its part, New York lured away ABC TV’s “Ugly Betty” from L.A. two years ago, creating an uproar in the local production community.

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Bruckheimer’s new series is certain to heighten the rivalry between the two cities and, along with “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” help blunt the steady falloff in dramatic TV production in L.A. over the last year resulting from the proliferation of reality TV, competition from other states and the cancellation of locally produced shows such as Fox’s long-running series “24,” CBS’ “Numb3rs” and NBC’s “Heroes.”

Although filming on the streets of Los Angeles jumped 16% across all categories (including commercials and features) in the second quarter, spurred by the state’s tax incentive program and economic recovery, production of TV dramas fell 38%. Early indications, including a strong pilot season, suggest that local TV drama production will pick up in the second half of the year. NBC is putting on more dramas to fill the 10 p.m. slot after moving Jay Leno back to late night.

“We lost a few really location-heavy shows, and we’re glad to see incoming dramas utilize L.A. locations,” said Todd Lindgren, spokesman for FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit group that coordinates film permits for the city and much of the county. “We’re hoping these productions will help restore some health to the dramas category.”

Jonathan Littman, executive producer of “The Whole Truth” and president of Bruckheimer Television, said L.A. was the clear choice for the show. The company “works hard to keep their shows in Los Angeles in order to help the local economy and to keep industry jobs in town,” he said. “It is also a huge advantage for us to be in close proximity to our actors and production team.”

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“The Whole Truth” is expected to feature location shoots throughout L.A., including Monday’s filming along Spring Street in front of City Hall, which stood in for the New York City Criminal Court in Manhattan. “We’re trying to make it like a busy New York street,” said location manager Veronique Vowell.

That included little touches like adding a New York newspaper stand and fake subway signs, injecting steam from sidewalk vents, parking a Con Edison truck in front of City Hall and using cut brush and plants to conceal palm trees and banana leaves straddling the entrance.

“It’s a challenge,” Vowell said. “New York doesn’t have bougainvillea and palm trees.”

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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