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TV Drama Stirs Visions of Fame for Palm Springs

`Hidden Palms' hasn't even debuted yet, and it's largely shot in Arizona, but Coachella Valley officials still hope the exposure lures tourists.

September 04, 2006|Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writer

Impossibly attractive teenagers cavort in ritzy neighborhoods, wrestling with lust, angst and dubiously competent parents. But this crew of would-be TV stars is nowhere near the glittering coast of the Fox nighttime soap "The OC."

These young quasi-celebrities are more than 100 miles east, in what might turn out to be the next big prime-time locale: Palm Springs.

A teen drama, "Hidden Palms," set in the resort city, is scheduled to roll out sometime midseason on the CW, the new UPN-WB hybrid network. Some of the stations in the CW are owned by the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times.

Palm Springs officials are buzzing about how a glossy, small-screen version of their city might draw more tourist dollars to the real place.

"No publicity is bad publicity," said Mark Graves, spokesman for the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority. "It would probably add a lot to the tourism draw."

Not everybody in town is convinced: The show is "not going to be very exciting," said Tricia Almejo, 19, who manages a T-shirt shop downtown and doesn't plan to tune in. "Palm Springs isn't very exciting ... if you're a younger kid looking for fun."

The Coachella Valley already is a well-known vacation spot, full of hotels, spas and golf courses, plus a sizable snowbird population.

Although the series' pilot was filmed in Palm Springs and Indian Wells, shooting is underway in the Scottsdale-Phoenix area, a spokeswoman for Lionsgate Television said. Arizona offers tax incentives to lure productions there: "Hidden Palms" arrival "means jobs for Arizona," said Arizona Department of Commerce spokesman David Drennon.

Still, the Coachella Valley may get some table scraps: The show may include some exterior shots from Palm Springs.

The city "has its own unique look that the rest of the valley doesn't really have ... very high-end, very expensive, very elegant look, almost like the 'Dynasty's' and the 'Dallases' of old Aaron Spelling days," said Gilbert Bell, co-owner of Palm Springs production company Intermedia Artists. Bell was "horribly disappointed" that "Hidden Palms" defected to Arizona: "I haven't seen anything in Arizona that is convincingly Palm Springs," he said.

Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden and other local leaders also were dismayed when the show's tentative title changed from "Palm Springs." But, Oden said, producers "can almost use anything with 'palms' and connect" it to the area. "It'll definitely help us," Oden said.

"Hidden Palms" centers on a troubled 16-year-old who relocates to Palm Springs with his mother and stepfather after his dad's suicide, and slowly uncovers the dark secrets of his pastel, stuccoed neighborhood.

The region has experienced renewed popularity as a filming location in recent years, Oden said, which reinforces its historic ties to Hollywood.

Parts of "Mission: Impossible III" were shot there, as was the upcoming horror flick "Neowolf" (with a cameo by the mayor) and the recent Miss Teen USA pageant, Oden said.

Palm Springs' star shone much brighter in the '40s and '50s, when the Rat Pack, Bob Hope and other luminaries relaxed in the desert oasis.

Areas that serve as the backdrop to a hit TV show or movie can often ride the wave of that popularity when tourists flock in.

The Oscar-winning movie "Sideways" brought an influx of visitors to Santa Barbara County to see the Central Coast wine country.

The region is still seeing the results of the 2004 film, said Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and chief executive of the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau & Film Commission. "It really put our wine country on the map," and boosted business 15% at the hotels and wineries connected to "Sideways," she said.

Officials in Newport Beach said "The OC" had helped fill hotel rooms and raised the city's name recognition worldwide, said Jessica Roswell, marketing and public relations manager for the Newport Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau.

When a city is fictionalized on screen, "your name is out there for the entire world to listen to, hear, drive interest to your website," Roswell said. "That only comes back to help you."

The air date for "Hidden Palms" is uncertain.

The show, whose executive producers are alums of "Dawson's Creek" and "My So-Called Life," is slated to replace a canceled program and could debut late in the season.

The show will air on KTLA-TV Channel 5 in Los Angeles.

"We'll all keep our fingers crossed that it'll be picked up," said Mary Perry, director of marketing for the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism.

There's a small but growing online fan base for the show, said Deserae Unzueta, an 18-year-old web designer from Silver Lake who runs a fan site for one of the show's actresses, Gail O'Grady. Snippets from the show have been leaked on the Internet.

Palm Springs was a spring break hotspot decades ago, and revelers rioted in the mid-1980s. But these days the town's median age is 47, and an evening soap starring hormonally charged high schoolers might be a stretch for residents. Palm Springs, whose downtown Walk of Fame includes Merv Griffin and Debbie Reynolds, is "not much of a teenage environment," said Jose Cisneros, 20, a worker at the downtown Starbucks.

Besides a fresh-faced cast, the pilot should feature plenty of swimming pools, golf greens and striking mountainsides, plus wealthy suburbanites baking in the heat. To the casual observer, parallels between the upcoming desert drama and its seaside cousin on Fox are virtually unavoidable.

"I hope," said Angela Lynn Robinson, 27, a Palm Springs Realtor and property manager, "it's not going to be a cheap knockoff of 'The OC.' "

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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