Starting Friday, Miami will see a sharp drop in sabotage, sniper fire and explosions. And that has quite a few people worried about the future.
With Thursday’s telecast of the finale of Burn Notice, the city’s No. 1 source of fictional attacks and espionage will end its seven-year run as the most successful series since Miami Vice and the linchpin of the English-language production industry.
Burn Notice’s dramatic exit (producers are touting the death of a major character) comes amid a grim stretch for production companies, which have lost three major series this summer and say they need Florida to extend its film subsidies to revive the industry.
“It feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us,” said Graham Winick, head of Miami Beach’s film office and a leading local advocate for the industry. “Things are very difficult right now.”
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature approved a budget with no new money for the incentive program, which gives television shows, movies, commercials and video games the chance to get as much as 30 percent of their local expenses back in the form of tax credits. Other companies buy those credits to reduce their Florida tax bills.
The program awarded about $118 million worth of credits last year.
Critics saw the program as offering rich subsidies for businesses famous for lavish buffets on sets and pampered stars earning seven-figure salaries. Supporters argued that without the money, Florida would continue to see its storied production business flee for Georgia, New York and other states that offer rich subsidies to attract movies and shows.
The program, started in 2004, made Burn Notice the most subsidized show in Florida history, collecting about $26 million in credits and direct payments from the state. That does not include credits for the show’s seventh season, which ends with its finale at 9 p.m. on the USA Network. In 2012, Burn Notice qualified for $6.2 million in credits, which cost Florida roughly that amount in tax revenue once the credits are redeemed.
Burn Notice reported spending $31 million in Florida to qualify for the 2012 money. Because Florida also offers shows and movies limited rebates on the state’s 6 percent sales tax, the savings were even greater for Burn Notice.
For Burn Notice, the end comes while its ratings remain strong and it has a fan base devoted enough that someone paid $625 at a recent auction for a set of spoons that star Jeffrey Donovan used to eat yogurt inside his fictional loft apartment by the Miami River. In reality, Donovan’s character, Michael Westen, lived in the vacant Coconut Grove Convention Center, which producers Fox Television Studios rented from Miami for studio space after the show’s debut in 2007.
Long one of the most popular series on cable television, Burn Notice revolved around Westen, a stoic ex-spy expelled (or “burned”) from the espionage business and forced to return home to a needy mother, reckless ex-girlfriend and a weekly series of hard-luck cases he inevitably rescued using his spy talents.
Creator Matt Nix originally pushed USA to let him place Burn Notice in Newark, N.J., since he needed rundown surroundings to sell the notion of an ex-spy forlorn and stranded in his hometown. But USA wanted something brighter, so Westen ended up being a Miami resident forced to return to his sunny, glamorous home.