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Reality (TV) sets in for Beverly Hills

On Location

September 04, 2012|By Richard Verrier
  • Kyle Richards, left, Taylor Armstrong and Adrienne Maloof in a scene from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
Kyle Richards, left, Taylor Armstrong and Adrienne Maloof in a scene from… (Evans Vestal Ward / Bravo )

Beverly Hills conjures up many images: expensive boutiques, tony restaurants and mansions owned by the rich and famous.

It’s also fast becoming known for something decidedly less glamorous: reality TV.

The affluent community on the Westside of Los Angeles County has evolved into a haven for at least a dozen shows probing the lives of basketball wives, Hollywood executives, overworked nannies, pawn shop owners, chefs and celebrities. There’s even a foreign-based reality series about two French girls living in L.A.

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Last year alone, the city issued 142 permits for reality TV shows, about twice the level in 2008, according to the city of Beverly Hills.

Some of the city’s most popular spots for filming include the swank shopping strip Rodeo Drive, where the series “Shahs of Sunset” often shoots; Coldwater Canyon Park, a location used by “Beverly Hills Nannies”; and restaurants such as Coupa Cafe on Canon Drive, a favorite of “Basketball Wives,” and Villa Blanca, whose owner is one of the characters on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Other productions frequently hosted by the city include “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “Married To Jonas,” based on musical artist Kevin Jonas.

Film officials aren’t sure why Beverly Hills has become such a magnet for reality fare, but they have been pleasantly surprised by the upswing in production.

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Although reality TV shows operate on low budgets and employ small crews (often less than a dozen people), the activity is nonetheless welcome. Like other cities, Beverly Hills has seen a falloff in production of feature films and one-hour dramas because so much work has migrated to other states and to Canada.

“Beverly Hills represents world-class shopping, the finest restaurants and hotels, and has an image of glamor and success that makes a very a desirable location for reality television series,” said Benita Miller, special events and filming supervisor for Beverly Hills. Some of the city’s landmarks, particularly the well-known brown-crescent Beverly Hills shield signs, require special permission from the city to film. The producers of “Beverly Hills Nannies” were recently turned down by the city when they requested to film the sign for one episode.

Producers say the privileged lifestyle represented by Beverly Hills makes it an inherently popular setting for television viewers.

“We felt there has always been an interesting and sexy allure to Beverly Hills and we wanted to capitalize on that,’’ said Doug Ross, president Evolution Media and executive producer of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Beverly Hills Nannies. “It means glamor, class, wealth, a sort of posh lifestyle where life is easy.... It’s what all of America aspires to be.”

Jonathan Koch, executive producer of “Beverly Hills Pawn,” a new series that profiles a high-end pawn shop called “The Dina Collection” on S. Beverly Drive, says the city’s mythology has a unique appeal.

“Beverly Hills is one of the most famous cities in the world and it represents a demographic that has proven to be quite interesting,’’ he said. “Beverly Hills has its own character and that’s why people obviously and consistently seek out shows based on Beverly Hills.”

Though the reality shoots aren’t a big revenue generator for Beverly Hills -- which has a population of about 34,000 and a median income of $81,726, according to the city's website -- they do play an important role in other ways, Miller said.

“Just the visibility has been positive because these shows are seen by a large part of the population and hopefully it’s bringing some business to Beverly Hills,’’  she said.

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