Bill Keveney
USA Today

The detective chases the suspect into a huge, abandoned building, a decaying structure that has the air of faded majesty.

It's clearly not a Hollywood soundstage, nor one of those all-too-familiar landmarks of New York or Los Angeles. It's Michigan Central Station, built in 1913 and captured in ABC's new cop drama, Detroit 1-8-7.

From the streets of Miami to downtown Honolulu, more network and cable TV series are being filmed across the states, with authentic backdrops that give viewers a refreshing break from the Hollywood sign and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Lower costs and tax breaks help, but studio executives say creative advantages are the top reason for moving beyond the filming capitals; the location becomes an additional character in the drama.

"You can invite the audience into where they actually are," says David Stapf, chief of CBS Television Studios, which produces Hawaii Five-0. "A scene that normally might take place on a stage, you can have take place on the beach."

Numerous first-year series are being filmed where they're set, or nearby, including 1-8-7 and Five-0; NBC's Chase (with Dallas substituting for Houston); Fox's The Good Guys (Dallas); and A&E's The Glades (South Florida). Fox's Lone Star and ABC's My Generation, both canceled, filmed in Texas.

They join other series shot on location, such as NBC and DirecTV's Friday Night Lights (Austin), USA's Burn Notice (Miami), FX's Terriers (San Diego's Ocean Beach) and HBO's Hung (Detroit). And new shows Blue Bloods on CBS and Law & Order: Los Angeles on NBC make New York and L.A., respectively, integral to the stories rather than just making use of the cities' industry infrastructure.

Hawaii Five-0 already has taken viewers to the International Market Place in Waikiki; the Manoa Valley; the surfing-heavy North Shore; and the Kahala Hotel, famed for its dolphins. 1-8-7 has gone to Hart Plaza, near the landmark Renaissance Center; Grosse Pointe; Dearborn; and Hamtramck. Good Guys viewers have seen the architecturally distinctive Dallas City Hall and Fountain Place.

'Landscape tells the story'

Shooting on location "profoundly affects the storytelling," says Matt Nix, executive producer of Good Guys and Burn Notice. Burn Notice originally was to be set in Newark; the shift to Miami meant a substantial atmospheric change.

"The first level is, 'Oh, there's a neighborhood called Little Havana. Let's shoot there,' " he says. "By the fourth season, you're into Little Dominica. You're into a distinction between Hollywood Beach and Miami Beach. If you're on the run from the law, you're more likely to hide in Hollywood than Miami Beach."

And for the cast, location filming can be an eye-opener. "Little did I know Detroit is such a fabulous town," 1-8-7 co-star James McDaniel says. "Detroit is sorely misunderstood by the nation. We finished working in a place called Palmer Woods, which is a glorious, beautiful neighborhood. We were shooting in this dentist's house, (which) was more a museum of black American art than you've ever seen."

Since many series succeed without being shot on location —CSIs set in Las Vegas, Miami and New York are all filmed in L.A., as is D.C.-based NCIS— why shoot somewhere else? More important, do audiences know or care?

Viewers need to be transported into the world of a show, whether it's filmed in L.A., as is New York-set Castle, or on location, as is 1-8-7, says ABC executive vice president of creative Barry Jossen, whose studio produces both shows.

"It needs to feel real. Anything that feels unreal or incongruent creates a disconnect," he says. "As it relates to Detroit 1-8-7, one of the great qualities that shooting in Detroit offers us is not just verisimilitude but authenticity. There are certain architectural looks to the city. There is the actual demographics of the population base. Wherever you point the camera, it is real Detroit."

The audience does notice the city, 1-8-7 star Michael Imperioli says. "It's visually very specific, and the landscape really tells the story of this city and what it's been through, the ups and downs and difficulties. It's also really helped our writers to tailor the stories to what actually happens here. There is a feeling that it's about the city and specific issues they deal with."

Some places just can't be re-created. "If it was me and I'm watching the show as a fan, something like Hawaii Five-0 I would want to feel was shot there. Other shows (film in Los Angeles) and do such a good job," says executive producer Peter Lenkov, a veteran of L.A.-filmed CSI: NY. "It's just the legacy of this show, being shot in Hawaii. I couldn't do this show anyplace but Hawaii."

Detroit offers a different look, with sites such as the train station pulling the viewer right into the Motor City, 1-8-7 executive producer Kevin Hooks says.

"It's still a landmark of Detroit. It was once just a grand, old building," he says. Such locations "give us an opportunity to speak in a voice that is truly unique and is something that has not been seen by TV audiences."

For all the authenticity and creative opportunity, money remains a major motivation. About 40 states offer a range of incentives, such as a tax credit of up to 42% in Michigan, which is enjoying its best production year. Hawaii offers a 15% rebate for production money spent on Oahu and 20% on the other islands; Texas, enjoying the most productions it has ever had, provides a 15% cash rebate.

The amount of shooting in Texas "is directly attributable to the incentive program we have in place. I assure you they wouldn't be here if it didn't make financial sense," Texas Film Commission director Bob Hudgins says.

Studios get savings that can make a project affordable, while the state enjoys tax, job and other benefits from millions of dollars injected into the economy. A record $391 million is expected to be spent on TV and film production in Hawaii this year.

Been there, done that

Experienced film crews also attract producers. Nix says that was a plus in choosing Dallas for Good Guys and Miami for Burn Notice. "One of the great things about both cities is they've had action shows shot there. When you go to Dallas and much of your crew worked on or worked with people who worked on Walker, Texas Ranger, nobody bats an eye when you say you want to drive this car off the side of a parking garage.

"In Miami, having had Miami Vice, it gets down to stuff like, 'We can spin a car out at that corner, and there's a pylon, which is a great place to smash it.' They know every place you can do a car chase, every place you can flip a car," Nix says.

States also gain exposure, which helps with anything from tourism to image. Lost, which was supposed to be on a mysterious island, and Five-0 show off the beauty of Hawaii in different ways, says Daniel Dae Kim, a star of both shows.

"On Lost, we were using a lot of jungle locations, being very careful not to use any sign of civilization. Hawaii Five-0 has a lot more leeway and can actually serve as a postcard for Hawaii. It can show off the natural and man-made scenery."

There is a risk, however, in setting a show about homicide detectives in a city like Detroit; it could simply reinforce a downtrodden image. Cast and crew say they're sensitive to that and try to balance the portrayal.

"There's a lot of crime and decay here. I don't want to paint a false picture. But I don't think (1-8-7) exploits that nor is it the single focus," Imperioli says. "We're not just telling stories about gang violence and drug crimes and drive-by shootings. The city has a lot of different elements. There are wealthier neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods and poorer neighborhoods. We're going into all of that."

"We're not doing Cops here," 1-8-7's McDaniel says. "If we were to just show Detroit from the lower-depths standpoint, that would be what journalists do. Dog bites man, over and over again."

And when it comes to escap-ism, a place like Hawaii can just make Hawaii Five-0 a pleasant show to visit. "In the dead of winter, when it's 30 degrees outside, I think (viewers) really want to believe Hawaii is that beautiful and warm and the actors are actually there," Kim says.

Imperioli, center in suit, shoots a scene on location in Detroit for the episode titled "Murder in Greektown/High School Confidential."


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