On Location: L.A.'s share of pilot production for dramas drops

Los Angeles still dominated overall TV pilot production this year, but rival locations, led by New York, continued to chip away at L.A. County’s share of new TV dramas, according to a new study.

In the most recent pilot season year ended May 31, 92 out of 152 television pilots were filmed in the Los Angeles region, making it the second-most-productive year on record after 2011, according to an annual survey from FilmL.A. Inc., a nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and the county.

But the good news was tempered by the fact that 70 of the 92 pilots were for half-hour comedies, which generally have smaller budgets and employ fewer crew members than TV dramas, which pack a greater economic punch, the study found.

Only 22 TV drama pilots were produced locally, with L.A. accounting for just 29% of all pilots produced for the 2012 pilot season, down from 63% in 2007.

The falloff reflects ongoing competition from cities across the U.S. and Canada that continue to lure shows with favorable tax credits and rebates, FilmL.A. officials said.

New York, which is poised to have another record year for TV production, continued to steal the show, drawing 16, or 21%, of all TV drama pilots. New York provides $420 million annually in tax credits — four times what California offers. Canada landed 19 drama pilots, while 18 others went to various states outside of New York and California.

This season, 44% of new dramas will be L.A.-based shows, down from 57% in 2011 and 58% in 2010, FilmL.A. reported. It marks the first time since the group has been tracking pilot activity that fewer than half of TV dramas on the air were produced here. Locally filmed dramas include ABC’s “Castle,” AMC’s “Mad Men” and “The Mentalist” from CBS.

“We think L.A. is settling into a new normal,” FilmL.A. President Paul Audley said. “Without a more competitive California tax incentive program, Los Angeles will find it hard to increase its share of total TV drama production.”

Audley said he welcomed the boom in half-hour comedies, but added that L.A. needs to attract a more diverse slate of TV productions.

“The comedy genre is cyclical and there’s little to prevent single-camera comedies from following dramas out of state,” he said.

Film industry officials and entertainment unions have been lobbying to support a state bill that would extend funding for California’s film tax credit program five more years. The state recently allocated $100 million in film tax credits, but funding is due to expire next year.

Pilot production is closely monitored because of the economic activity it generates. The average pilot employs 150 people and has a budget of $2 million (for comedies) to $5.5 million (for dramas). Overall, FilmL.A. estimates, $262 million was spent in L.A. during the most recent pilot season.

As the initial episode of a proposed TV show, many pilots are made but only a few actually turn into full series for broadcast or cable television.

Network pilots are typically produced between January and April in anticipation of May screenings for TV advertisers. Each spring, broadcast networks and cable channels decide which of their pilots make the cut for the fall schedule.