I wrote this piece about a couple a’ little shows shot in San Diego a few years back for a certain San Diego publication and they didn’t end up running it. I quite like it, so thought I’d share with other fans.
The comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer are as relentless as Lestat just awakening for his evening feeding frenzy, and that could be good or evil, depending on who you ask. Each of this season’s new teen dramas produced by local Stu Segall Productions is the stake-wielding blond’s progeny in its own way.
Enrico Colantoni, who most people recognize as Elliott from Just Shoot Me, co-stars on Veronica Mars, and says, “People think it’s a teen show but older people are digging it. We had an episode that aired Tuesday that just blew my friends’ minds.” Veronica Mars, airing since September, stars an impishly cute blond high school student who fights good, old-fashioned human bad guys. Reeling from the murder of her best friend, the popular Lilly Kane, and the ensuing scandal, Veronica (Kristen Bell) cuts off her hair and joins forces with her father (Colantoni) in his private dick business. Though set in a fictitious SoCal town ruled by the rich and beautiful, it is garnering more comparisons to Freaks and Geeks than The OC. The fact is, it’s a smart show, languishing largely unnoticed on the UPN network, up against the WB’s One Tree Hill.
Ironically, Colantoni sees the show’s network home as an asset. “The investment is there. [UPN] is ready is put time into show. If we were on another network we might’ve been cancelled by now.” Chatting easily from his car, he gushes about the appeal of working in parts south. “This is the finest town I’ve lived in,” says the charismatic actor, who commutes between a home in L.A. and a condo in Little Italy. Prior to his current gig, he says, “Any opportunity I had, I’d come [to San Diego] for a visit. I would feel like I was going on a vacation.”
Joan Etchells, Vice President of Stu Segall Productions, located in Kearny Mesa, couldn’t agree more. Her company strives to illuminate assets like near-perfect weather and lesser production costs than those in Hollywood to television producers. They have succeeded with hundreds of hours of programming, much of it airing on the likes of USA or the Sci-Fi Channel. This season, however, they have braved the fangs of prime time FOX viewers in the slot immediately following the popular OC, with the supernatural drama Point Pleasant.
Residents of the real Point Pleasant, in New Jersey are apparently up in arms that their town’s image is being bastardized on the wrong coast. A gorgeous, and again blond, teen girl has washed ashore of this quaint, small town with no memories. As she searches for her mother, and her presence does a number on the town’s straight-laced façade, it becomes apparent that something evil is a-brewin’ inside that svelte body. Turns out her dad is the Devil. One of the show’s producers is Marti Noxon of Buffy and Angel fame, giving sci-fi geeks plenty of fodder for online debate.
Even if the plots of these aren’t your thing, there is some fun to be had for San Diego residents, trying to figure out where various scenes are happening. The pilot for Veronica Mars was shot at Oceanside High School. And there’s always those sought-after tourist dollars to think of whenever a town takes to the screen. But though Stu Segall has been at it for fourteen years, why haven’t mid-90s predictions of becoming “Hollywood South” materialized? According to Etchells, “It’s all about the bottom line.” She explains that many other states and Canadian provinces offer tax incentives for those with big cameras. “We’ve lost shows to Canada, we recently lost a series to New Orleans. California has to keep in step and I believe Arnold Schwarzanegger is going to do that.” A show biz insider looking out for her own? Perhaps, but it’s still a mystery how many producers will discover this tucked-away, 11-acre playground.
News is that ratings for Veronica Mars, though not blood-curdling, are on the steady rise, and a recent guest spot by Alyson Hannigan (Buffy’s Willow) couldn’t have hurt. Episodes have been ordered up through the season finale on May 10, when anxious fans will finally learn who murdered Lilly Kane.
“It has an edge – it’s what Buffy was in the beginning,” says Colantoni. He, as well as many critics credit Bell with the power to make the show last. Colantoni says that when he first met Bell at the audition, he was impressed with her talent, and between then and the start of shooting the two actors repeatedly bumped into each other in unexpected places. Colantoni says he “knew” that working together was in their stars, and still feels the same way. “There’s definitely some hocus pocus going on.” (Cue Twilight Zone theme…)