Happiness is a Warm TV

Only one scripted TV show has filmed in NC this year. Will increased incentives bring more?

Juan Diego Bott, left, and Michelle Dockery in TNT’s “Good Behavior.”
Juan Diego Bott, left, and Michelle Dockery in TNT’s “Good Behavior.” Turner

The second season of the TNT drama “Good Behavior” premieres Oct.15 and – in addition to being a dark and suspenseful crime/love story – it has the distinction of being the only scripted television series to have filmed in North Carolina this year.

That’s quite a difference from years past, when the state had a robust film tax credit program that lured major productions. In recent years, a number of television shows filmed in North Carolina – “Homeland,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Under the Dome,” “Revolution,” “Banshee” and “Eastbound & Down,” to name a few. In addition, blockbuster films such as “The Hunger Games” and “Iron Man 3” filmed in the state.

The state legislature voted to end those credits after 2014, replacing the tax incentive program that paid out $80.7 million in 2014 with a one-year $10 million grant program. “Revolution” and “Banshee” both left the state, moving to Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh, respectively. Industry spending in the state dropped in 2015 – to $111 million from $316 million in 2014.

But last year, the legislature voted to increase the grant threefold for the 2017 fiscal year. The state has $34 million to spend in this fiscal year, which includes some unspent money from the year before. The 2018 fiscal allocation is $31 million. Those figures include a capped rebate of up to 25 percent on in-state production expenses.

An additional consequence of the reduction of film money has been the geographical narrowing of productions. Guy Gaster, director of the North Carolina Film Office, said the entire state has gained from incentives in the past.

“With the (tax credit) incentives, we had major productions taking place across the state. And now with the grant, it has become a little more narrow on where people are filming,” said Gaster, citing the Wilmington area. “We continue to see a strong interest in North Carolina, but we have focused on a more specific target market now than before.”

Grants or no grants?

State Rep. Deb Butler, a Democrat from Wilmington, says the current program is not effective.

“ That’s why all of the industry has left for Georgia,” said Butler. “The proof is in the pudding. My feeling is what we’ve got is not working – which is why we’ve got one (scripted) TV show here.”

In addition to the scripted “Good Behavior,” 2017’s other projects mostly have included small films and reality programs such as “A Chef’s Life,” “Love It or List It” and “Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks.”

Butler says the grant process is cumbersome and that there’s not enough money in the fund to make it worth the time of major productions. The current 25 percent rebate includes caps of $9 million per television series per season (for series that spend at least $1 million per episode), $5 million for feature-length films (with a $5 million spend requirement) and $250,000 for commercials. The grants cannot exceed 25 percent of the project’s expenses.

But Butler says a lot of damage has been done. “The industry recognizes that North Carolina, in it’s present configuration, just doesn’t have the political will to make them feel comfortable,” Gray said. “The rebate program that we had prior was extremely robust – it’s what we built our reputation as Wilmywood on. It’s really regrettable that we let that get away.”

Becki Gray, senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation, disagrees. She says the film industry grant program is a good example of what the state should not be doing – favoring one industry over another.

“Why are we picking one company to give a benefit to? Why not all North Carolinians? Why not create a fair playing field rather than carving out special benefits for special industries? It’s not a fair tax system to have,” she said.

And Gray points out that it’s not just the film industry credits the Locke Foundation opposes, it’s all incentives.

“Whether you’re an old school North Carolina business or whether you’re a new start-up or whether you’re a business that’s thinking about moving to North Carolina, that treatment needs to be the same for everybody to create a fair playing field. Why is the North Carolina state government deciding that jobs in the film industry are better or more valuable than jobs with another company or an entrepreneur or anybody? What the tax system should be is a fair system that doesn’t have special treatment for special people or industries.”

On the governor’s to-do list

Gov. Roy Cooper has listed reinstating the state’s film tax rebate program as one of his goals while in office. Butler thinks he can do it.

“I think after one or two more election cycles he will,” she said. “When we can restore more balance to the General Assembly, the governor’s initiatives will hopefully be more palatable.”

Gray says the Locke Foundation will oppose those efforts.

“We will work against that tooth and nail,” she said.

‘Good Behavior’

The TNT drama “Good Behavior” stars Michelle Dockery, best known for playing Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey,” as a con artist and recovering drug addict named Letty who gets entangled with a hit man named Javier (Juan Diego Bott). While trying to rob Javier’s luxury hotel room in the series’ first episode, Letty overhears him agreeing to a job and tries to warn the target. But she is caught by Javier and becomes his captive, and the two drive across North and South Carolina evading the law. Javier eventually lets her go, but it’s a pretty messed up love story and they just can’t stay away from each other.

The series, based on the Letty Dobesh books by Blake Crouch, is well regarded by critics, and Dockery’s performance in particular is praised.

Both Seasons 1 and 2 filmed in the Wilmington area.

WATCH: Season 2 of “Good Behavior” premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on TNT. Season 1 is available on Hulu, Amazon Prime and iTunes.