I could see Mariska Hargitay from my window. I know, I sound a bit like Tina Fey as Sarah Palin saying she could see Russia from her house, but it’s true. I also spied her blonde “Law & Order: SVU” co-star Kelli Giddish. They were chatting on the steps of a size-of-a-small-home trailer that was parked in front of my building while they shot an episode of their hit show, which is in its 18th season on NBC.
About two months ago, when the weather was warmer, my 19-year-old daughter Meg and I walked down to Carl Schurz Park to watch the filming of TVLand’s “Younger” with Sutton Foster. Yes, we were part of the crowd of lookie-loos who watched Foster ride a bike, then fall off it onto an inflatable mattress. When we watched the episodes a few weeks later, it depicted the well-known Broadway singer/dancer being hit by a car and doing a header off the bike.
I’m no stranger to having my Upper East Side block transformed into a backlot, with trailers, no-parking cones, and crew members with walkie-talkies; East 86th Street and the surrounding area has been a hotbed of TV and film production, especially around the park, for over a decade.
About six years ago, Meg was almost apoplectic when they shot “Gossip Girl” on our street, but my favorite experience happened a block over on First Avenue, where fire trucks abounded and a battalion of men and women clad as members of the FDNY climbed ladders and shouted orders at each other.
When I was half way down the block and away from the action, which was still semi-visible, a distraught man crossed the street, leaping (I kid you not) over the curb’s mound of snow, waving his arms at me and yelling, “Miss!” He caught up with me and asked in all sincerity, “What’s going on? Is it terrorism?” I tried to remain straight-faced and said nonchalantly, “They’re shooting an episode of ‘Third Watch’.” We both started to laugh nervously as he dropped his head in alarmist embarrassment.
A lot of people don’t like it when Hollywood makes itself at home on our turf. I hear some neighbors, as well as strangers who speak really loudly, complain: “They take all the parking spots;” “Some kid with a headset told me to keep moving;” and the ever popular, “This is so disruptive.” But I don’t mind.
In fact, I like it. The lights. The cameras. The action. It’s fun to see how “movie magic” is made, as well as the stars who make it. Sutton Foster was genuinely nice, and seemed humbled by those seeking autographs. I also enjoy the break from the everyday, telling people who call: “What am I doing? Well, I’m watching Detective Olivia Benson storm into the bar around the corner. I assume she’s making an arrest.” I also, think it’s good for the city.
According to The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, filming in NYC has seen explosive growth over the past year, contributing nearly nine billion dollars and over 130,000 jobs to our economy.
As Manhattan has always been the place where artists thrive, it makes sense that NYC is seen as a thriving center of creativity for TV and film production, showing off what the five boroughs have to offer. I really hate it when a show or movie tries to pass off a city like Toronto, or worse, a soundstage, as NYC, such as “Seinfeld” used to.
One of my favorite series of commercials is done by USA Network, promoting its “Law & Order” reruns. Tourists ask directions of New Yorkers who instruct, “Oh, the Empire State Building? Just go down this street and make a left at the empty lot where Logan and Biscoe found the dead body.”
I for one look forward to the next set of street signs alerting us that there will be no parking after midnight, as filming will commence at 6 a.m.
Hey, there’s no business, like show business—and you never know when they may need an extra.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back to Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie version is in the works.