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NY Acting Markets: Television

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When it comes to assessing the health of the television market for actors in New York, experts disagree. Brad Kenny, manager at Central Casting New York—which provides background talent for such series as the CW's "Gossip Girl" and NBC's long-running "Law & Order" franchise—is "definitely optimistic about the number of pilots and series being shot in New York City." But Geoffrey Soffer, who casts principal roles for ABC's "Ugly Betty," is not so sanguine.

While he doesn't believe that TV and film production in the city is about to come to a grinding halt, Soffer notes that he has "definitely felt it slow down" recently. (Events have borne him out, as ABC recently announced the cancellation of the New York–shot "Ugly Betty.") He says pilot season in New York is unlikely to be "very eventful" this year: "I am not as optimistic that we will enjoy booming production like a few years ago. I hope I'm wrong."

Soffer feels that putting pressure on officials to retain the city and state tax credits for film and TV production is essential. The industry recently breathed a sigh of relief when, amid a devastating economic downturn, New York's Gov. David Paterson proposed a budget that would extend the state incentives, though the program still requires legislative approval.

One recent dark spot is the disappearance of three decades-old daytime dramas from the New York TV production slate. ABC's "All My Children" has relocated to California. CBS's "Guiding Light" has ended production altogether, and the network's "As the World Turns" will follow suit later this year. That will leave one New York soap standing: ABC's "One Life to Live."

Says Julianne Cho, associate commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting, "The recent decrease in daytime drama has been a disappointment, but that's been tempered by an increase in other television programming in the city, particularly cable episodic series, which provide plenty of opportunities for guest-starring and regular roles." Cho notes that a few years ago, only two cable shows—"Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos"—were shot locally. The roster has since grown to include "White Collar," "Royal Pains," "Nurse Jackie," "How to Make It in America," "Damages," and others. She also cites the longevity of such New York–based series as "Sesame Street" and "Saturday Night Live" as an indicator of the market's health.

But whether the New York TV market is expanding, contracting, or holding steady, how can actors make themselves more appealing to series shooting in the city? Kenny advises the usual hallmarks of professionalism: "They need to be on time, camera-ready, and prepared in whatever way production requests."

Soffer says some theater-oriented actors in New York tend to "get theatrical" when they audition for TV projects. "That might work for a multicam comedy, but New York actors should keep in mind that they are not on stage, so their choices" sometimes need to be "more intimate," he explains.

On the other hand, the fact that New York is a "theater town" can work to the advantage of aspiring TV actors, Soffer says: "There is theater being produced on virtually every corner, and it's very easy to stay working and engaged. You might not be making a lot of money doing it, but you're staying in the game. I am at the theater three or four times a week, often to scout for actors that are unrepresented or undiscovered. I'll bring them in for auditions, possibly introduce them to an agent, and before you know it, if the universe aligns properly, L.A. comes knocking. A few years ago, I met Logan Huffman at an industry event—whom I then introduced to an agent and manager—and he is now a series regular on ABC's 'V.' "

Concludes Soffer, "There are more actors in L.A. and not nearly so much theater, so it's much harder to break in" there.

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