TV crews flee Hollywood for...Hoboken?

A first-of-its-kind study confirms that a key part of the TV industry – pilot production – is moving to other states, costing California millions.

Carlos Osorio/AP/File
This Oct. 8. 2008 file photo shows film crew working on a set at Gina's Bridal for a movie called "Demoted" in Milford, Mich. Michigan offers one of the most generous tax credits in the nation.

Fewer television programs are producing their first-ever episodes in Los Angeles, a new study says, for the first time confirming a long-held suspicion.

For Hollywood, the trend marks a further erosion of its hegemony in the film and television industry. For California, it means the state has lost some $100 million at a time when it can ill afford a further hit to the economy.

The $34 billion state film industry employs about 250,000 people in southern California alone. But since 2005, the overall number of prime-time television pilot episodes produced per season has declined by 17 percent, according to FilmL.A., the film permitting organization for Los Angeles. The overall number of pilots produced in Los Angeles has fallen nearly 42 percent, according to the study released Thursday.

Though the pilot season is short, it still provides significant amounts of money to vendors, rental agencies, and so-called "below-the-line" workers – those who are not in top acting or producing roles. During the past five years, however, spending on production for series pilots has dwindled by about one third, from $309 million to $207 million.

"Over the years we've known that this has been shifting because of reality TV, production costs, and labor issues," says Todd Lindgren, a spokesman for FilmL.A. "Now we know for sure that their share has decreased and gone to other states."

These states include Georgia, Illinois, and New Jersey, as well as Canadian provinces and foreign countries.

In the current economic climate, California needs to do more to hold on to its share, analysts say. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has tried. In 2004 he championed a series of measures to stanch the outflow of entertainment dollars as well as federal legislation that gave tax breaks to domestic film and television production.

Earlier this year, California also passed a five-year $500 million incentive program. It was welcomed, but the industry also criticized it for having too many strings attached.

"California does have some laws, but they are not viewed as that attractive [to producers] and some of the provisions haven't kicked in yet," says Jack Kyser, president of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "Now you have other states … offering serious incentives to produce jobs and tax revenue."

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