L.A. school district suspends reality TV shoots

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British chef Jamie Oliver’s food revolution is giving LAUSD officials a case of indigestion.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has suspended all filming of reality TV shows in district schools after a standoff with the celebrity chef, who had been filming his ABC show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” at West Adams Preparatory High School in central Los Angeles for the last two weeks.

This week the district denied Oliver’s license to film at Manual Arts Senior High School in South L.A., which, like West Adams, is operated by MLA Partner Schools under a contract with LAUSD.


Officials with both the school district and the production said the dispute stemmed in part from concerns over how the district would be portrayed.

LAUSD spokesman Robert Alaniz said the district did not have a good experience working with reality shows and was in the dark about the content of Oliver’s current program, which is filming its second season. But district officials were aware of last season’s episodes that were filmed at a West Virginia elementary school.

“If you look at the last series [Oliver] did in Huntington, W.Va., it was full of conflict and drama, and we’re not interested in that,” Alaniz said.

L.A. schools have been increasingly marketing themselves to filmmakers and TV producers as prime places for location filming. Cash-strapped schools have turned to local filmmaking as a way to generate revenue. The district charges $3,100 a day for filming on school property, and on-location filming at L.A. schools has jumped nearly 40% over the last two years.

A spokesman for FilmL.A. Inc, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for LAUSD, said the district’s action was prompted not by a specific complaint against Oliver’s show but by a concern that such reality TV programs can be disruptive to students attending classes.

At least one other reality TV show was affected by the ban, MTV’s “Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory,” which had planned to film at Le Conte Middle School in Hollywood.


“The district decided that having unscripted reality shoots while classes were still in session was probably not the best idea,” FilmL.A. spokesman Todd Lindgren said. “Reality programming is unpredictable, and the district decided that it was better to restrict that kind of programming.”

Alaniz said district officials support Oliver’s campaign to promote healthful eating but were concerned that his show would not fairly reflect steps LAUSD has taken to improve its menus, such as banning junk food and sodas and adding more fruits and vegetables.

“Our guidelines are certainly way above the USDA guidelines,” he said, adding that the district was still talking to the celebrity chef and remained open to working with him.

Oliver, who has championed the cause of promoting more healthful eating in schools in Britain and now America, recently moved to Los Angeles and is filming the second season of ABC’s “Food Revolution.” He has been trying for months to gain entry into the country’s second-largest school system, but he had received a stiff reception from district officials.

School officials said they eventually did grant Oliver a license to film at West Adams on the understanding that his show would focus on teaching kids in culinary class how to prepare healthful meals.

Oliver was not available for comment. A spokeswoman for the show said the production would continue outside the school.


In a speech at the UCLA School of Public Health on Wednesday night, Oliver expressed his frustration with district officials.

“My filming permit was terminated because I can’t promise that the LAUSD [will] look good,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech. “They fail to see me as a positive, and they fail to see the TV as an incredible way to spread the word, to inspire people, to inform parents, to see other teachers doing pioneering things.”

Although many local schools generate extra cash leasing out their facilities for filming, some reality productions have irked school officials.

Last year, officials at Hollenbeck Middle School, east of downtown Los Angeles, complained about having to spend more than $100,000 to fix a substandard paint job left behind by the NBC show “School Pride.”