On Location: Reality TV kicks up production in Los Angeles
A robber dressed in drag angles 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 criminal through the window, slams him against a countertop and repeatedly pummels him as he crumples to the ground.
The scene was based on surveillance video of an actual robbery and was recently filmed on Magnolia Boulevard for Fuel TV’s “Punk Payback.” The aptly named reality TV series, starring former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Bas Rutten, showcases combat moves that help viewers avoid being “punked” on the street.
"It's part martial arts action, part comedy,'' said Greg Glass, president of BCII, which is producing the show. "It's very over the top."
“Punk Payback,” which debuts in November, is just the lastest among an onslaught of new reality TV shows that have kicked into production in Los Angeles this summer.
Since early July, about 50 new reality TV shows have pulled permits to film on local streets or non-certified soundstages, according to data from FilmL.A. Inc.
While reality TV production slowed in the second quarter — it was down 13% compared with a year earlier — 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 are shot 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 opera 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.”
-- Richard Verrier
Photo: Former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten demonstrates his fighting techniques in the new reality TV reality series "Punk Payback," which is being filmed in Los Angeles. Credit: Fuel TV.