"Scene Stealing:
Lots of TV Series Are Set By the Bay —
and Shot in L.A."

by Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 June 2002

There are at least six new television shows set in San Francisco coming out in the next few months, including two medical dramas, two sitcoms and another estrogen-fest by the makers of "Ally McBeal."

But don't expect to run into a throng of famous actors on the way to the corner market.

While the main characters in San Francisco-based "Presidio Med," "Meds," "Monk," "Girls Club" and two UPN comedies will make references to everything from Sutro Tower to Antawn Jamison, chances are they'll be doing it from a soundstage in Los Angeles or Canada.

It's a strange paradox in the land of television, where so many actors from Hollywood pretend that they live in San Francisco while filming in Vancouver.

"The Streets of San Francisco" and "Nash Bridges," which filmed almost entirely in San Francisco, are exceptions to the rule. Most shows set in the Bay Area come to San Francisco a few days a year for scene-setting exterior filming.

Location scout Scott Trimble runs the Web site norcalmovies.com, which lists the Bay Area locations where movies and TV shows film. While many film crews are in San Francisco only long enough to shoot the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower, Trimble said producers of other projects such as "The Matrix Reloaded" can spend more than a year in the Bay Area to produce a two-hour film.

Television dramas, in contrast, may spend just a few days in the Bay Area for a 22- hour season.

"Sitcoms tend to spend less time here," Trimble said. "If they come up at all."

John Miller, an MTV executive who develops reality series, said New York and San Francisco have similar reputations among network executives. MTV shot one of the early "Real World" series in San Francisco but chose cheaper Davis for its new series "Sorority Life."

"It's a beautiful place to shoot, it's production-friendly, but it's very expensive," Miller said. "It's one of the most expensive cities in the country for food and lodging and transportation."

Trimble said that while many local actors and crew wish Hollywood would spend more time in San Francisco, a few days of shooting can be very profitable for local businesses.

"Even with a small number of (filming) days, there's a preparation and wrap period. It might be a couple of weeks."

He said tourism is boosted further when the San Francisco-based shows are seen by out-of-towners, many of whom are unaware that the scene was filmed far from the city by the bay.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle