California luring three BET shows including 'Being Mary Jane' from Georgia with its own tax credits

Gabrielle Union stars as Mary Jane Paul, a CNN-style anchor on BET's "Being Mary Jane" who has plenty of family and personal issues.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Gabrielle Union stars as Mary Jane Paul, a CNN-style anchor on BET's "Being Mary Jane" who has plenty of family and personal issues.

BET's outsized presence in Atlanta may be shrinking thanks to California tax credits.

The network last month received tax credits for three shows: a new sitcom called "The Start Up" and two existing shows currently based out of Atlanta: sitcom "Let's Stay Together" and Gabrielle Union's hour-long drama"Being Mary Jane." (Variety broke the story last month and I missed it.)

I have not heard from BET yet about what they plan to do but the Variety story says "Being Mary Jane" would qualify for a $5.2 million break on $21.1 million spending and "Let's Stay Together" would get $1.5 million for $6.3 million in production costs. "The Start Up" starring Diggy Simmons  is promised up to $2.87 million for $11.5 million in production costs.  (I will update this with any information from BET, if they choose to provide any.)

The credits are worth about 25 percent of production costs. In Georgia, the network could get as much as 30 percent.

Adrian McDonald, an analyst at FilmLA, a private, nonprofit organization that coordinates and processes permits for on-location motion picture, television and commercial production, said no production company that has been offered the tax credits has ever turned them down.  He said BET has six months from the time of getting the credits to take advantage of them, which means they have to make a decision by January.

And given BET's past decision making process, it's too early to say if they plan to give "Being Mary Jane" a third season. The second season of 10 episodes shot in Atlanta from April to July. BET will likely start airing the second season later this year or early next year.

If BET ends up cancelling one or both shows, they lose access to the credits.

California has offered $100 million a year in tax credits via a lottery system. But demand is far greater and dozens of films and TV shows that otherwise might have stayed in Los Angeles have ventured elsewhere, including Georgia. According to the California Film Commission, only 26 out of 497 applications were accepted during the most recent lottery in June. BET was on the wait list, which is why it received the good news late.

This isn't the first time an Atlanta production was shifted to Los Angeles: MTV in 2012 moved "Teen Wolf" to Los Angeles after two seasons in Atlanta because MTV won tax credit lottery money that year and has remained.

For the fiscal year ending this past June, $1.4 billion worth of film and TV production came to Georgia, making the state the fourth largest producer in North America behind only California, New York and Vancouver. The state hasn't revealed how many tax credits have been handed out but it likely exceeds $300 million.

California is amping up its tax credits for fiscal year 2016 started next July to about $330 million with $66 million set aside for shows such as "Being Mary Jane" or "Teen Wolf" coming to Los Angeles from another location. (There is one more lottery for fiscal year 2015.)

Who will get the credits? It will be based on a 'formula based on number of jobs created, McDonald said.

Georgia has no cap on its tax credits. Some states use a first-come, first-serve method for its credits, if there is a cap.  North Carolina recently largely got rid of its tax credits, which will result in shows such as "Under the Dome" and "Sleepy Hollow" to likely move elsewhere.

As a result of Georgia's tax credits, hundreds of entertainment-related people have moved to Georgia in the past five years - make up and hair people, crew members and companies that cater to films and TV shows.

But a bulk of the creative people - the producers and writers - and the productions companies and networks are still based in Los Angeles. They generally prefer their TV shows and films to stay there and who could blame them?  Even though the California credits aren't quite as generous as those in Georgia, the lure of being "home" is attractive.

The only sizable production company based in Atlanta is Tyler Perry's operation. And while Turner Entertainment is based here, a vast majority of its programming are shot elsewhere.

I've interviewed actors who work in Georgia and while most profess happiness working here, it's obvious some of them would rather be elsewhere. I'm sure it's the same with executive producers and anyone who had spent years in Los Angeles and would prefer to stay there.