On Location: New York surpasses L.A. in TV pilots

The FX TV series "American Horror Story" relocated to Louisiana after filming in Los Angeles.
The FX TV series “American Horror Story” relocated to Louisiana after filming in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, once the king of TV pilots, is rapidly losing its domain to New York and other rivals.

The L.A. region’s share of the pilot production pie dropped to a historic low in the most recent season, as producers took their business to the Big Apple and other cities offering stronger tax breaks and rebates, according to a new report.

Among 203 pilots produced in the 12 months ended in May, only 44% (90 pilots) were filmed in the L.A. region, down from 52% the previous year and 82% from the 2006-2007 pilot season. The rest mainly filmed in New York, Vancouver, Atlanta, and Toronto, concludes a study released Tuesday by FilmL.A. Inc.

The decline has been especially sharp in the category of TV dramas. In fact, New York drew 24 TV drama pilots in the last year, compared with 19 in L.A., marking the first time on record that New York has surpassed L.A. as North America’s most attractive location for one-hour TV pilots.


New York state has seen a surge in TV production since boosting its tax credit from 10% to 30% in 2008. The state allocates up to $420 million annually in film and TV rebates, four times what California offers.

The decline in the number of TV drama pilots is especially significant because dramas are considered the most economically valuable type of TV production, employing large crews and often for several years. A TV drama pilot costs about $6 million to $8 million to produce.

As the initial episode of a proposed television series, pilots provide an important source of employment for local crews, especially during the spring. They are also a key indicator of where many potential hit television shows will take root at a time when L.A. is more dependent than ever on television production as fewer big films shoot in California.

For years, industry advocates have highlighted the exodus of feature film crews from Southern California, but the latest report provides further evidence that L.A.'s cornerstone TV business is losing ground as well. One reason is that California’s film and TV tax credit enacted in 2009 does not cover TV pilots and also excludes new network dramas.

“When you look at it, it’s just astounding,” said Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A. Inc., which handles film permits for the city and county. “On the TV drama side, we’re just getting killed, and that’s the major revenue production part of television.... We will continue to see losses unless California adjusts what is eligible.”

State lawmakers are reviewing a bill, AB 1839, that would remove those restrictions to allow more projects to qualify.

One bright spot is that L.A. remains the king of comedy. But its dominance is slipping in that area too. L.A.'s share of overall sitcom pilots was 76% in the last year, down from 83% the prior year and 100% from seven years ago, the survey found.

Historically, pilots made in L.A. were highly likely to stay in the region if they were picked up for a TV series. That has changed in recent years, however. Even a pilot shot in L.A. for a show that is set here has no guarantee of staying in L.A.

For example, after filming the pilot episode in L.A., producers of the L.A.-based show “Graceland” took the USA series to Florida, representing a loss of $10.2 million in wages. The popular FX series “American Horror Story” moved to Louisiana after filming in Los Angeles to take advantage of tax credits in that state, the report says.

Twitter: @rverrier