'Bluff City Law' reportedly stops filming, how that impacts taxpayer money

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — City officials are weighing in on the return on investment for "Bluff City Law."

Multiple entertainment outlets, including Variety, have reported that the NBC drama Bluff City Law is pressing pause on filming more episodes.

They say it isn't an official cancellation, but the move isn't promising for the freshman series: Variety reports the series is averaging just a 0.9 rating in adults 18-49 and 6.3 million viewers.

The show's future is in limbo. What about all the taxpayer money poured into production?

NBC received a $4.24 million incentive package, including $2.5 million from Tennessee, $1.4 million from Memphis and Shelby County, and $350,000 from Memphis Tourism.

"Media production tax credits are risky," said Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First. That's an organization that monitors incentives. "Over time, if you don't attract enough production, it won't pay off."

LeRoy said when there are only so many shoots a year in a given market, once the lights go out, jobs take a pause. And when you subsidize a series that doesn't make it, that's even worse, he said.

"Caterers, talent, behind-the-scenes. Talent usually doesn't pay taxes locally. Unless you become big enough to have lots going on at once, it's hard to build an industry," LeRoy said.

Memphis Tourism's Vice President of Public Relations, Kevin Kern, said it remains a positive return on investment.

"We believe this remains a positive return on investment for the exposure generated for the Memphis destination that has been showcased as a character in the weekly series seen by millions of people via the network broadcast, plus additional viewers via on demand and streaming services," Kern said.

Dan Springer, spokesperson for the City of Memphis, told FOX13 that it is his understanding that there is no loss:

"The City/County contribution via EDGE is per episode, so NBCUniversal only receives tax abatement dollars prorated for the number of episodes aired-10. If they come back and do more, the new tax abatement value will again be per new episode," Springer said.

FOX13 reached out to EDGE, the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County for clarification as to whether the city/county paid a lump sum of $1.4 million or if they are paying per episode.

Stefanie Barrett, a marketing specialist with EDGE, provided the following language from the PILOT term sheet which explains the breakdown.

"The award is subject to the Applicant producing at least 9 episodes of "Bluff City Law" in Memphis and Shelby County. The Applicant shall be entitled to one calendar year's benefit for each nine (9) shows with completed production in Memphis and Shelby County up to a maximum of thirty-six (36) shows of which creates four (4) years of benefit regardless of the period for production. The award of the annual benefit (75% of the assessed value of the personal property) will be in arrears. For an abundance of clarity, if thirty-six episodes are completed in two years, the Applicant will receive the full four (4) year benefit."

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