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Reality TV productions on upswing in L.A.

About 50 shows have taken out permits to film on streets or soundstages this summer. The industry remains a key driver of local TV productions even as other types decline.

August 10, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

A robber dressed in drag ambles toward a window at Norms Restaurant in Burbank and whips out a gun. Within a few seconds, the burly looking guy behind the cash register yanks the gunman through the window, slams him against a countertop and repeatedly pummels him as he crumbles onto the ground.

The scene, based on surveillance video of an actual robbery, was recently filmed on Magnolia Boulevard for Fuel TV's "Punk Payback." The aptly named reality TV series, starring former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten, showcases moves that help viewers avoid being "punked" on the street.

"Punk Payback," which will debut in November, is the latest in an onslaught of new reality TV shows that have kicked into production this summer in Los Angeles.

Since early July, about 50 new reality TV shows have taken out permits to film on local streets or noncertified soundstages, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc.

Although reality TV productions slowed in the second quarter — they were down 13% compared to a year ago — activity has rebounded this summer with a crop of new and returning shows.

The flurry of activity is a reminder of the American public's seemingly insatiable appetite for so-called reality TV, much of which is scripted, and how the industry remains a key driver of local TV production even as other types of television production decline.

Fewer one-hour dramas shoot locally in part because of rising competition from other cities outside of California.

"We're grateful to have it [reality TV], but we'd also like to see more scripted programming, which has a higher economic impact," said Philip Sokoloski, a spokesman for FilmL.A., which handles local film permits.

In addition to "Punk Payback," other new shows include "Shahs of Sunset," a Bravo series produced by Ryan Seacrest about a group of affluent young Persian American friends living in Los Angeles; "Dance Moms," a Lifetime show that centers on a demanding dance company instructor and her students; and E! Entertainment's "Dirty Soap," which follows the personal lives of soap actors.

Then there's "Barbies Reality," which spotlights the drama surrounding a party rental hall in South Central Los Angeles. The show's producer, Hue Hollins, who owns the rental facility, hasn't sold the show yet, but he's confident he'll find a buyer from a cable channel such as True TV.

"There's enough madness going on [at] the facility that it would make for good television," he said. "It's a pretty open market and we feel like if we can come up with something that's interesting and good, we shouldn't have any trouble selling it."

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