Hey, Tennessee taxpayers: Is Hollywood giving you your money’s worth?
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By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Nashville’s famous Broadway Street is cluttered with tourists year round, but it’s hard to find even one visitor who regularly watches the ABC drama “Nashville,” which state officials subsidized with taxpayer money to advertise the city.
At least that’s what Tennessee Watchdog discovered this week when it visited the one part of Nashville that most heavily showcases the city’s rich musical heritage.
Broadway Street has a countless number of juke joints and honky tonks. The Ryman Auditorium, where Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash performed in the 1950s, is nearby.
Michigan residents Doug and Rita Kochis were in Nashville this week to see Broadway and a few other sites.
Have they ever watched “Nashville” on ABC?
“I’ve seen the show, but not faithfully,” Rita Kochis said.
Did the show have any bearing on their decision to visit?
“No. We would have come anyway,” she said.
Of the 11 other tourists who spoke to Tennessee Watchdog, only one other person had seen “Nashville.” The remainder said they had never seen a single episode. All who were interviewed said the show had no influence on their visit.
“Nashville” ended its first season on ABC two months ago. The show’s first episode aired nearly a year ago. State officials gave “Nashville” producers $8.5 million to film on location during its first season.
Laura Elkins, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which distributed the money, said her agency still does not know how well the investment paid off for Tennessee taxpayers during season one.
“We won’t have a number until we receive the CPA’s report. Due to the recent ending of season one, it will take several months for a third-party independent CPA to conclude an audit on the matter,” Elkins said.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported this week, state officials will give series’ producers an additional $12.5 million for its second season.
ECD officials see the ABC series, and other film and TV productions in the state, as “branding opportunities” — similar to tourism outreach.
“According to network figures, some 8.2 million people have viewed each episode of the show, all 26, between the network broadcasts and online streaming services. That is advertising we could never buy, ” Elkins said.
“Nashville,” like many adult-prime time dramas, depicts city residents involved in blackmail, adultery and drug use, among other typical soap opera story lines.
Messages left seeking comment with Lionsgate Entertainment of California, which produces “Nashville”, were not returned.
As part of the branding campaign, ECD officials also have awarded $302,000 in taxpayer money to a Robin Williams film, “Boulevard,” which Elkins said takes place in Nashville and was filmed on location last month.
Officials with the film’s production company, Camellia Entertainment, told state officials that they would spend $1.2 million in Tennessee.
Camellia Entertainment had no contact information available on its website and could not be reached for comment.
The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office released a report — earlier this year highly critical of the state’s film incentive program. The report said out-of-state production companies took advantage of the state’s generosity with taxpayer money, perhaps as much as $18 million, and redirected that money to California, without spending a lot in Tennessee.
Elkins told Tennessee Watchdog that state officials have since put new controls in place designed to keep that money in state.
“We are mindful of the need for a better return on investment from the state’s film program,” Elkins said.
“We also do not plan to try to compete with states like Georgia and Louisiana, which spend hundreds of millions annually competing for major motion picture productions.”
Elkins did not offer specifics on when the CPA will release its report on how much money “Nashville” brought to the state during its first season.
Contact Christopher Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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