Shows Come Up House-Hungry

Sep 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Neighborhood resistance and rising home rental prices, combined with the rabbit-like proliferation of reality shows, are making it more challenging for producers to find the mansions they use to house contestants during multi-week shoots.

Malibu, Calif., was a popular destination for reality shows early in the reality boom, with shows such as ABC’s “The Bachelor,” Fox’s “American Idol” and “Mr. Personality” and UPN’s “Chains of Love” shooting in mansions there. However, in March, the Malibu City Council passed an ordinance making it more difficult for reality series to shoot.

The ordinance limits filming days at a property to 14 in one year. The filming period can be extended to up to 20 days if producers get signatures from 100 percent of the neighbors within a 500-foot radius of the location.

The time restriction makes it nearly impossible for reality shows to film at a house in Malibu, because a typical shoot for a six- or seven-episode series requires cameras to be rolling 24-7 for four to five weeks. Some franchises also shoot multiple editions in the same year.

It takes six to eight weeks of 24-hour-a-day shooting to do an edition of “The Bachelor,” which puts up women competing for a bachelor’s affection in a Malibu house. The show used the same house for the last three editions and the upcoming fourth edition.

Diane Klein, owner of location scouting firm Malibu Locations, which lists about 5,000 properties, said reality producers don’t bother looking in Malibu anymore because of the time limits.

“We were doing a lot of reality shows, and now we can’t,” she said. “`The Bachelor’ got its permit for the next season early. Because they anticipated that the city was going to pass these new rules and regulations, they quickly got their permit for a house that they were not even sure they would be using again.”

For the spring edition of “The Bachelor,” producers Next Entertainment and Telepictures will have to find two new houses.

Malibu Film Commissioner Kimberly Nilsson said the time-limit ordinance was not meant to kick reality shows out of town, but to set reasonable limits. Before the ordinance, the city had a 14-day limit that was easily extended to as many days as producers wanted if they got enough signatures of approval from the neighbors.

“With the reality shows, they seem to always want to go back to the same property,” Ms. Nilsson said. “When houses were getting up into the 50 or 60 days of filming, the neighbors get a little tired.”

Malibu’s amount of production is disproportionate to its size, Ms. Nilsson said. Last year, 676 film permits were issued for 1,155 days of filming. Ninety of the permits were for TV shows.

Malibu isn’t the only city where reality producers have run into difficulty in the last year, said Joey Carson, chief operating officer of Bunim-Murray Productions, which invented the strangers-living-together-in-a-fabulous-house format with MTV’s “The Real World.”

Bunim-Murray ran into opposition in Chicago this summer, when it was looking for a house in which to shoot the new syndicated show “Starting Over.”

The producers found the perfect house on Chicago’s tony Gold Coast but ditched that plan after neighbors complained.

“There is so much press about reality television that sometimes people get the wrong impression about what’s going to be going on in this house,” he said.

“[Neighbors] were wary that they would have film trucks parked outside 24 hours a day,” Mr. Carson said. The show found a house north of downtown Chicago.

Heightened awareness of reality shows also has driven up rental prices, said Andrew Jebb, VP of production at Bruce Nash Productions, which has produced “For Love or Money” and “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” for NBC. Some productions have even moved to places such as Las Vegas and Palm Springs, Calif., in search of affordable locations.

“People are starting to gouge, starting to increase the rates substantially, making it a lot harder to find a suitable location for the right price,” Mr. Jebb said.

Reality shows often rent houses from owners who move out during the shoot. Other locations are empty houses on the market or second homes. Rents can range from $30,000 a month to more than $100,000.

“Meet My Folks,” another Nash show, needs a house for only about five days to shoot an episode. The production will typically pay $10,000 to $25,000, Mr. Jebb said. The brand-new mansion used in “For Love or Money” was substantially more expensive. A three-week shoot cost about $125,000 in rental fees, he said, which was discounted from a much higher day rate because production committed to such a long block of time there.

Ms. Klein countered the notion that owners are gouging producers. “A lot of the houses that [producers] want are pretty elegant homes, where if you move out of your house are you going to move into a shabby little tenement or do you want a house that’s equal to yours? If you want a house that’s equal to yours, you have to charge double what your house is worth because you’re going to have to pay to move somewhere else,” Ms. Klein said.

Ms. Klein said she works hard to find houses within a show’s budget. And producers can always say no.