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BLAZE ON THE BACK LOT : DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

Movies, TV shows won't be affected

June 02, 2008

The back-lot blaze at Universal Studios will have little effect on movie, television or other video productions, according to studio officials.

"Tomorrow will be business as usual," said Ron Meyer, the studio's president and chief operating officer.

The fire destroyed two New York and New England sets featured in such movies as "Back to the Future, "When Harry Met Sally," "The Sting" and the upcoming "Changeling," directed by Clint Eastwood.

"These are some of the most widely used urban big street film sets in the business. It's an unfortunate loss, but I'm sure they can quickly rebuild," said Jim Yeager, former head of public relations for Universal Parks and Resorts.

Los Angeles often has stood in for New York in movies, but recently the number of people living downtown has made filming there difficult, increasing demand for lots such as the one razed at Universal. Only two other studios -- Warner Bros. and Paramount -- have New York sets and they often are booked, location managers said.

"It's a big lot and it's a major lot and it's always busy, and if you take a chunk of that away -- that's not a good thing for the industry," said David Berthiaume, president of the Location Managers Guild of America. Berthiaume shot many episodes of the series "Sliders" at Universal.

Of the TV productions on the lot, which include "Desperate Housewives," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Life," only CBS' "Ghost Whisperer," which stars Jennifer Love Hewitt, was touched by the fire. Two of the supernatural drama's eight locations were damaged, according to a studio spokesman.

Charissa Gilmore, vice president of communications for ABC Studios, which co-produces the program with CBS Paramount, said the series is on summer hiatus and is expected to begin shooting its fourth season June 11.

The loss of filming space comes as the industry struggles to keep productions from moving to states that offer incentives that are unavailable here.

But the fire's effect on Los Angeles production will be mitigated by the fact that most TV production has wound down for the summer break. Feature film production already has scaled back in anticipation of a possible strike by Hollywood's actors next month.

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