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Real Pittsburgh seen in cameos

Sunday, September 16, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Filming a TV show on location, outside Los Angeles or New York studios, tends to be considerably more expensive. So there was no way "The Guardian" was ever going to be produced in Pittsburgh full time.

But "Guardian" creator and Pittsburgh native David Hollander wants the show to come to Pittsburgh to film scenes occasionally, and he fought successfully to get part of the pilot shot here. Finding the money to do that proved difficult, but several cast members and crew filmed for a day along Grant Street in April.

Scenes of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the Frick Building (inside and out) and the city skyline can be seen throughout the show's premiere episode. After that, it may be a while before viewers see the real thing again.

Last week, production was under way on the sixth episode of the series, and there have been no trips to Pittsburgh since that day in April.

In July, Hollander and executive producer Michael Pressman said they planned to delay shooting some scenes from early episodes in hopes of eking out a trip to Pittsburgh to film those scenes.

But so far, there have been no trips, not even a second-unit crew to film establishing shots of Pittsburgh landmarks.

"We are in the process of trying to get the money together," Hollander said by phone last week. "We desperately need to do it. We're in the process of shaking the tree, and we'll see what comes out. I feel we have to go."

Earlier this month, scenes held back from next week's episode were filmed in Los Angeles because Hollander knew he wouldn't be able to swing a trip to Pittsburgh in time. Even if he does get a crew on Pennsylvania soil, it will initially be a second unit crew to grab establishing shots only.

Getting actors back to the 'Burgh will depend largely on how the show performs in the Nielsen ratings in its early weeks.

"If the show is successful, we'll have the financial clout to move in the way I want us to move," Hollander said.

CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem called Pittsburgh a character in "The Guardian," but that's not something all executives take to heart. Fox Television Entertainment Group president Sandy Grushow runs both the Fox network and the Fox-owned studio that produces series for multiple networks. He said his goal is to produce as many series as possible in Canada to save money through Canadian tax breaks.

"Every time I hear somebody say the location is a character in the show, I'm like, 'Yeah, right,' " Grushow said. "Apparently your other characters aren't interesting enough. I'm not a big proponent of that."

Others are less strident. Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, said he's fine with producers taking shows on location, as long as they can do it within their established budget.

UPN president Dean Valentine said location shooting does give TV shows greater authenticity.

"It's very hard to shoot in Vancouver and say, 'This show is set in New York.' People know the difference," Valentine said. "We're a very sophisticated media culture. It's very hard to put stuff over on the audience. There's a trend toward giving the audience more of what it really wants, which is reality."

CBS president Les Moonves said filming part of "The Guardian" pilot in Pittsburgh wasn't a factor in the network's decision to green-light the series.

"No, I just felt an allegiance to my old Westinghouse bosses," Moonves said with a laugh. "No, it had nothing to do with that."

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