Once USA renewed it, Burn Notice became the first series of any note since Vice to come back to South Florida for a second season. While other series chose Miami as their fictional homes ( CSI: Miami and Dexter), they ended up filming in California. That left Burn Notice to become the No. 1 source of business for companies like Unique Producers Services in Opa-locka, which rented lights, dollies and other equipment to the series.
“ Burn Notice took a lot of equipment,” said owner J.B. Jones, 82, who got his start creating fake gunshots on the hull of a boat for Flipper when it filmed in Miami in the 1960s. “We had them for seven years.”
Business picked up as Florida defied the economic downturn and ramped up its production incentives under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. In 2010, Tallahassee increased incentive funding from $5 million in 2009 to $242 million over five years, prompting a wave of shows and movies to head for Miami, including Charlie’s Angels (canceled by ABC in 2011 after one season), Magic City (canceled by Starz after two seasons) and The Glades (canceled by A&E after four seasons).
The Glades and Magic City met their end this summer, making the loss of Burn Notice even tougher for the industry. But this week brought news that the only remaining English-language series filmed in the area, USA’s Graceland, would come back for a second season.
Florida’s allegiance to show business will face a test this year as lawmakers decide whether to extend the state’s production incentives. All of the original $242 million has been committed to existing projects, though the departure of the Miami shows may free up money for new productions.
Telenovelas receive the money, too, but English-language shows and movies get the bulk of the dollars and attention in the incentives debate. Spanish-language productions require smaller budgets and revolve around the Miami area’s network of Latin media companies, including Univision and Telemundo.
Advocates say new money will be crucial to keep English-language production growing. Meanwhile, Miami is moving forward with a plan for a $14 million studio near Overtown as a way to sustain an industry that brings both jobs and exposure to the city. Critics, including some existing studio owners, see the venture as a waste of money, given the lack of productions in the area.
Burn Notice’s ratings peaked during its third season, when it drew an audience just shy of 5 million and finished 2009 as the No. 6 show on cable, according to Nielsen. (It snagged the No. 4 slot the year before, but with a smaller audience.) Though ratings have slipped in its final season, Burn Notice holds the No. 14 slot on cable this year with a solid audience of 3.6 million. Burn Notice filmed 111 episodes, the same number as Miami Vice did from 1984 to 1989.
During a recent conference call with reporters, Bruce Campbell, who played Westen sidekick Sam Axe, called Burn Notice a highlight of his career.
“We pretty much had seven strong seasons. It was a grand slam,” Campbell said. “That will always be on our résumés. You can’t take that away from us.”
Production advocates blamed the show’s demise partly on Miami’s insisting that Burn Notice find another studio after this season so that the Grove convention center could be demolished for parkland. But production costs were increasing, too, and Nix said the convention center situation had no impact on the show’s exit.
“It would have been a pain in the butt to find a new place,” he said. “But I don’t think you decide whether to make a whole new season on whether the stage space is available. It wasn’t like we said, ‘If you’re taking away our convention center, we’re taking our ball and going home.’
“When you’re ending a series, you really have a choice. You can end it on your own terms. You will invariably end it when it seems a little early,” Nix said. “Or you can be yanked off the air, and end it a little bit late.”