If you want to film in New York City but don’t want to actually go there, Fox has come up with a solution. The studio has refurbished and expanded the streets on its backlot, used for 12 years by producer Steven Bochco for NYPD Blue, and turned them into a versatile version of curbside Gotham in Los Angeles.The NYC mÃ©lange replicates everything from lower Manhattan’s historic and fashionable cast-iron district, replete with a trendy restaurant front; to Upper West Side brownstones and outer-borough hardware stores; to an appropriately grimy subway station entrance with an adjacent newsstand. Everything, that is, but the skyscrapers.Richard Hankins, the long-time production designer on NYPD Blue, was hired by Fox to spiff up the setting to provide a generic but authentic color scheme that producers can customize according to their needs. Hundreds of signs for various emporia are available.To date, Fox has made only a modest investment, but it has already started to pay off. Several fall television series—Bones, How I Met Your Mother, Kitchen Confidential and House—as well as a number of commercials and also some music videos have been taking advantage of the New York City street facsimile for shoots. “So far we’re in the six figures, but we’re continuing to spend,” says Hal Haenel, the Fox senior VP and general manager who is in charge of the backlot. “It rents for more than a stage because you get the multimillion-dollar set that comes with it. You don’t have to build a set. You just have to redo one of the building exteriors.” If a show were to shoot on location in New York City, on top of the extra cost, “they’d have to shut down an entire street and have to get all the necessary permits,” notes Haenal. “Here you have just about the same thing with a lot more flexibility.”Fox overall has a 60-acre backlot facility with a medley of buildings from the 1920s to contemporary, which can be utilized for shoots. Another 200 acres were sold off by Twentieth-Century Fox in the 1960s to save the studio financially after expensive flops like Cleopatra. The land became Century City with its forest of towers—now worth untold billions of dollars.
Written by Jack Egan