Following Netflix, most major studios threaten to leave Georgia if abortion law goes into effect in 2020

Originally posted Thursday, May 30, 2019 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Most major studios including New York-based WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal have now gone on record that they would likely leave Georgia if the state’s new restrictive abortion law is enacted January 1, 2020.

Netflix on Tuesday and Disney Wednesday helped open the floodgates after both threatened to leave the state for the same reason. Among the production companies that joined in the cavalcade Thursday: CBS, Showtime, AMC Networks and Viacom.

“We operate and produce work in many states and within several countries at any given time and while that doesn’t mean we agree with every position taken by a state or a country and their leaders, we do respect due process,” WarnerMedia said in a statement. “We will watch the situation closely and if the new law holds we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions. As is always the case, we will work closely with our production partners and talent to determine how and where to shoot any given project.”

NBCUniversal said largely the same thing soon after, saying the law coming to fruition “would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.”

Similar anti-abortion laws in other states have been struck down by federal courts, but anti-abortion advocates are hoping the Supreme Court will tackle one of the laws and either restrict or overturn Roe v. Wade.

As NBCUniversal also noted in its statement: "We fully expect that the heartbeat bills and similar laws in various states will face serious legal challenges and will not go into effect while the process proceeds in court.”

AMC, which owns a studio in Senoia and shoots “The Walking Dead” and “Lodge 49” in the state - then released a comparable statement which included: “If this highly restrictive legislation goes into effect, we will reevaluate our activity in Georgia.”

CBS and Showtime, in a joint statement, in part noted: “For now, we will continue producing our series based there that have production orders for next season. If the law takes effect in Georgia or elsewhere, these may not be viable locations for our future production.” CBS is currently committed to a single scripted who in Atlanta: “MacGyver.” It also partly owns the CW (“Dynasty,” “Black Lightning”) with WarnerMedia.

Viacom, which owns MTV, VH1 and BET, to name a few, said "should the new law ever take effect, we will assess whether we will continue to produce projects in Georgia."

Sony, which has shot several films here, more mildly noted that it was tracking the situation “as we consider our future production options.”

Of the statements or comments from the various major studios, Netflix took the strongest stance against the law by referencing women’s rights and supporting the ACLU and others to fight it. The other studios were more benign and practical in their assessments.

Although no major studio is leaving right now, multiple productions have already said no to Georgia and are choosing to shoot elsewhere. (Netflix effectively said if producers and actors refuse to go to Georgia now, it won’t stop them from seeking other climes. At least one Netflix movie has done so.)

This backlash is happening despite the state’s generous tax credits, which provide up to 30 percent of qualified budgetary items to production companies. More than 450 productions qualified for the tax credit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, generating $2.7 billion in direct spending in the state. Only New York and California has more TV and film business now than Georgia in the United States.

WarnerMedia, which runs several networks technically out of Atlanta including CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network, shoots several shows in the state. (AT&T, by the way, recently closed on buying Time Warner and is splintering the Atlanta-based Turner operations into three divisions.)

HBO shot an Anita Hill film "Confirmation" in metro Atlanta starring Kerry Washington in 2016. A year later, it shot part of  Amy Adams' limited series "Sharp Objects" in Barnesville.

The pay cable network cis urrently shooting an upcoming big-budget superhero drama "Watchmen," which features an ensemble cast with stars such as Regina King and Jeremy Irons. Jason Bateman is also executive producing a Stephen King adaptation "The Outsider," which is in production. And J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele are committed to "Lovecraft Country."

TBS and TNT don’t have any active scripted productions in Georgia at the moment. Basketball-related programming such as “NBA on TNT” is shot at the Techwood campus in Midtown along with weekly “ELeague” video-game competitions on TBS Friday nights. Adult Swim shoots a handful of series here including live-action “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.” TruTV produces a game show “Paid Off With Michael Torpey” at Turner’s Midtown campus.

Live news programming at CNN and HLN, by the way, do not qualify for the tax credits so the networks’ presence at CNN Center won’t necessarily be impacted.

On the film side, WarnerMedia is shooting “The Conjuring 3” and will soon add a sequel to “Suicide Squad.”

NBCUniversal - which owns several cable networks including Syfy, USA and Bravo - doesn’t have much in the way of scripted fare shooting in Georgia right now. Its Bravo Network has Georgia-based reality shows that are very specifically Atlanta so it’s not as if the producers could uproot Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Married to Medicine” and “Don’t Be Tardy. (Technically, NBCUniversal could just cancel them.)

USA and Syfy have shot here in the past but have no active productions in Georgia. Oxygen is producing a new Nancy Grace-led crime show here. The main broadcast network NBC most recently had "Good Girls" shooting in metro Atlanta, but the show moved to California last year. NBC has not announced any shows for its 2019-20 season shooting in Atlanta.

Viacom, the last company Thursday to weigh in, owns several cable networks. OWN shoots shows such as “The Haves and the Have Nots,” “The Paynes,” “Iyanla Fix My Life” and the upcoming “Ambitions” in Atlanta. BET has been highly committed to the state for years and recently has shot “Sunday Best,”  “Boomerang” and “American Soul” in Atlanta.

Louisiana, which has a decent amount of film production in the state thanks to its capped tax credits, passed a similar "fetal heartbeat" anti-abortion law on Wednesday. There has not been any comparable backlash yet directed at Louisiana from Hollywood types - not even actress Alyssa Milano, who was the first to complain about the Georgia law, which Gov. Brian Kemp signed May 7.

Kemp has declined to comment on the situation since Netflix’s statement on Tuesday.