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TV Production Stalls in New York on Tax Credit Crunch

Feb 5, 2009  •  Post A Comment

A state tax credit that brought television production in New York City to a record high last year has run out of money, threatening jobs in the one sector of the city’s economy that had been expected to thrive during the recession.
Already television production studios are holding back on plans to shoot pilots in New York this spring, the traditional time of year when the networks begin work on new series for the fall. If funding for the tax credit program is not renewed, feature film and television series production could also dry up once current projects are completed.
NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker warned of the dangers to the local television industry if New York did not continue to provide incentives.
“Television companies that made 19 pilots for programs last year in New York City thus far have committed to making zero,” he said Tuesday at a Crain’s Future of New York City forum.
Executives in the local production business echoed his concern.
“None of us has booked a single pilot this year,” said Alan Suna, president of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens. “Everybody is sending their pilots elsewhere.”
Mr. Suna said that he knew of two pilots for shows with stories set in New York that NBC is sending to Chicago, and two others that the network is planning to shoot in Canada. Warner Bros. was also shooting a pilot for a New York-set series in another location, he said.
An NBC spokesman declined to comment. A Warner Bros. spokeswoman could not be reached.
In addition to creating production jobs, pilots are valuable because the series is likely to be shot in the same location if it gets picked up by the network.
Studio and local production executives began to worry several months ago about the state tax credit running out, but the expectation was that it would last until the spring, said Doug Steiner, chairman of Steiner Studios, which is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Instead, the allocated credits ran out on Monday, according to an executive at one of the networks. Renewal of the program now has to wait until a new budget is passed in Albany. The budget’s deadline is April 1.
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, who represents the Queens districts of Long Island City and Astoria, where Kaufman Astoria Studios is located, said that studios will start to send work back to New York once they see that the incentive program is still in place.
“If we get through this budget and there’s no funding for this program, that’s when things will fall off a cliff,” he said.
By all accounts, the incentive program has been a spectacular success in bringing productions to New York.
Started under Gov. Pataki in 2004, it contained $445 million in credits allocated through 2013. But last April, to compete with other states’ incentive programs, Gov. Paterson tripled the tax break to 30% of production expenditures, and the number of New York-based productions shot up.
The city offers a 5% tax break, which was instituted in 2005 by Mayor Bloomberg.
Local production executives are worried about how the current break in the program will affect future projects.
“This interruption is not good for what it says to Hollywood,” Mr. Steiner said.
In a statement, Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, said that other programs, including a “Made in NY” discount card for use with local vendors and the city’s 5% tax credit, will continue to keep New York “an attractive location to film.”
The New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development did not respond to calls for comment.

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