"Ugly Betty" dumps Hollywood for Gotham green

Thu May 15, 2008 3:43am EDT
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By Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After simmering for the past couple of years, the issue of California's lack of production subsidies boiled over last week when ABC said that its hit series "Ugly Betty" will pack its makeup kit for the greener pastures of New York.

The move, which takes advantage of new incentives approved by New York lawmakers, is the latest in a battle pitting state against state in upping the ante to attract productions.

The Empire State's new 30% tax credit -- plus an additional 5% offered by New York City -- means substantial savings for a show like "Betty," which costs upward of $3 million per episode to produce, even factoring in that New York is more expensive to shoot in than Los Angeles.

With 150 employees left in limbo, industryites in Los Angeles howled at the news. "Betty" has become the latest poster child for runaway production, a term that originally applied to projects going to Canada but now is used for shows leaving California for the likes of New Mexico, Louisiana, Connecticut and Illinois.

No one expected such a loud reaction, including "Betty" creator Silvio Horta.

"I didn't know how deep and big the can of worms was, how much runaway production had affected L.A.," he says.

The show's pilot was shot in New York, and many planned for a run in the Big Apple. "I made a valiant plea to shoot there, and we couldn't because it was more expensive," Horta recalls. Instead, the Los Angeles-based "Betty" production relied on CGI and downtown locations as well as studio lots to fake the Big Apple.

Horta sees the move as a homecoming, a view shared by many inside New York film circles. "This is a show that was born in New York and belongs in New York," one state insider says. "There's shouldn't be a big deal about it."   Continued...

<p>Actress America Ferrera accepts the Image Award for outstanding actress in a comedy series for her role in "Ugly Betty" at the 39th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Shrine auditorium in Los Angeles February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>