Burn Notice could be on last legs in Miami; filming execs, city officials debating lease extension for season three
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Will burned agent Michael Westen return to his hometown of Miami for a season three?
Two years ago, the popular cable series "Burn Notice" transformed the Coconut Grove Expo Center into its filming studios, but now city officials and filming executives debate over a season-three lease extension.
Since season one, "Burn Notice" — considered the largest video production in the state — has featured Miami as its tropical backdrop.
But now the USA Network show's filming schedule clashes with the City of Miami's plans to demolish the expo center by early July, because the series would need at least until September to wrap up production.
Its future in Miami is in limbo.
With the lease expiring this month, the city and Fox Television Studios have just days to wrap up an agreement to guarantee "Burn Notice" a third season here.
The series was renewed for a third season in October and is now slated to start shooting in March its 16 episodes. Each episode takes about a week to film.
City Manager Pete Hernandez said he's willing to cooperate with Fox executives but is concerned with the timeline because the TV drama needs an additional three to four months to complete production.
Mr. Hernandez said he's awaiting an official letter from Fox detailing why producers need more time.
"We want to cooperate and support "Burn Notice,'" he said, adding he wants to be clear on the requested timeline because he needs to proceed with a bid process to select and hire a contractor for demolition.
He wants the site to be ready for the wrecking ball as soon as "Burn Notice" wraps and packs up.
At a summer commission meeting, city commissioners agreed to allow "Burn Notice" to use the expo center to film a third season. The production crew and local fans attended the meeting cheering for the extension. But no filming deadline was set because the show was still awaiting renewal.
At that meeting, Mr. Hernandez emphasized that the facility is not safe for public use and said funds are available to demolish it.
Fox Studios has requested an extension until at least late September or October as shooting delays, production breaks and weather interruptions have to be taken into account, said Graham Winick, president of Film Florida, the state's entertainment industry marketing and legislative association.
Another reason for rushing demolition is that the structure sits along land that city officials are looking to revamp under the approved waterfront master plan that promises new parks and world-class sailing centers along Biscayne Bay from Peacock Park to Kennedy Park.
Phase one of the master plan calls converting the site into a park.
But Mr. Winick wants the city to consider the show's economic impact.
"Burn Notice," one of the most watched series this summer, attracted more than 4 million viewers weekly, he said, adding that it's also gaining popularity with foreign audiences.
It's considered South Florida's largest film industry provider of jobs and revenues, he said.
Fox is spending more than $20 million in South Florida to shoot each season, he added, and each episode costs $1.7 to $2 million to produce.
Producers hire about 125 local crew members, buy camera and lighting equipment, vehicles and pay local businesses to film at their establishments, he said. "The money flows through the system and there is a multiplier effect that trickles down."
Mr. Winick said through this cable production, the local industry has in the past two years trained a talent pool that is now ready to cater to new productions coming to Miami.
But to retain that talent pool, jobs are needed.
And that's something the industry is struggling with as film-related revenues continue to evaporate, he said.
At the last legislative session, the film industry took a hit as lawmakers slashed funds for film industry incentives from $25 million to $5 million, he said.
With the economic woes, he said, production companies are looking at states such as New York, Georgia and Louisiana that are offering better incentives.
Now, most of Florida's $5 million in incentive money is slated for "Burn Notice."
"We are relying on that production, so that is why it is critical for the City of Miami to close this deal with Fox as soon as possible," Mr. Winick said.
What about a season four?
While all sides agree they would like to retain "Burn Notice" in Miami if it gets picked up for a fourth season, they can't agree where.
Mr. Winick said he thinks if the waterfront master plan doesn't move forward, "Burn Notice" could negotiate filming a fourth season at the expo center.
But Robert Parente, Miami's director of film, arts and entertainment, has other plans.
The city is looking at two possible locations to where it could relocate the cable show, he said. However, he said it was too early to discuss those options publicly.
Within city boundaries, soundproof stages include Ice Palace Film Studios in Overtown.
But Mr. Winick insists asking "Burn Notice" to move is costly for the production company, which has to pay to relocate and rebuild its large-scale sets, he said. "It could affect whether they stay in Miami."