Bluff City Law Isn’t Paying Off for Tennessee Taxpayers, Expert Says


The new NBC series Bluff City Law takes taxpayer money from the state and local governments to film on location in Memphis, but one government subsidies expert said evidence shows they aren’t worth Tennessee’s investment.

The third episode attracted fewer viewers than the first two did, 4.03 million versus the 4.61 million who watched the pilot, according to The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

But Mark Cunningham, spokesman for the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank, told The Tennessee Star Wednesday that taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth out of the show, which stars Jimmy Smits.

“As predicted, the ratings for Bluff City Law have been disappointing at best despite heavy nationwide promotion. The only thing more unoriginal than the plot of what seems like the five thousandth legal drama is the fact that taxpayers are forced to pay for it,” Cunningham said in an email.

He added, “The state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis should stop giving away our hard-earned tax dollars to Hollywood producers. Film incentives are nearly always a bad investment for taxpayers and it is well past time that the state of Tennessee eliminates its failing film incentive program.”

Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development spokeswoman Jennifer McEachern said state officials provided $2.5 million in incentives to Bluff City Law.

Memphis officials, through the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County, sought $1.4 million for the show’s first year of filming, according to that organization’s website.

The website went on to say NBCUniversal has ordered nine episodes for the first season, in addition to the pilot.

EDGE proposed a four-year PILOT tax abatement for six Comcast property tax bills – one state-assessed utility property and five Memphis and Shelby County personal property bills. Comcast will pass the savings to NBCUniversal, the EDGE website said.

“For the nine additional episodes NBCUniversal expects total cost to be $41 million. That includes 332 crew and 34 cast, with a payroll of $22 million including benefits,” according to EDGE.

“NBCUniversal anticipates spending $11.5 million on Tennessee-based personnel and approximately $9 million with Tennessee vendors. The show is expected to generate more than 10,300 hotel room nights in Shelby County, Tennessee. If the initial order is successful it is anticipated that another six episodes will be ordered for this season, bringing the total spending for Season 1 of Bluff City Law to more than $68 million.”

In June, The Star quoted Beacon Policy Coordinator Ron Shultis as saying past film incentives proved a terrible value for Tennessee taxpayers.

“State film incentives became popular in the mid and late 2000s. By 2009, 44 states offered some kind of film incentive. What those in the industry won’t tell you is that since then, thirteen states have completely eliminated their programs and several more have reduced theirs because these programs have been shown to be a bad value for taxpayers,” he said at the time.

“In fact, a recent study by Tennessee’s Dept. of Economic and Community Development (ECD) found that the $69.1 million given over the life of Tennessee’s program has resulted in $14.7 million in state tax collections, or a 21-cent return on the dollar. This estimate is on the higher side compared to most states, with some official state studies stating as little as seven cents on the dollar.”

Even if Bluff City Law is successful and airs for many seasons there are no guarantees it will film on location in Memphis long-term, Shultis added, reminding readers of the now cancelled ABC series Nashville.

Nashville filmed on location in exchange for corporate welfare from state and Nashville officials.

“As we’ve seen repeatedly, networks will hold taxpayers hostage demanding more and more incentives for future seasons,” Shultis said.

“Even with the show Nashville, despite being named after a specific city, ABC threatened to leave and film in Austin, Texas if it did not receive more money for its third season after receiving $16 million in state dollars for the first two seasons.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Bluff City Law” by Bluff City Law. 





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2 Thoughts to “Bluff City Law Isn’t Paying Off for Tennessee Taxpayers, Expert Says”

  1. […] The Star reported earlier this month state officials provided $2.5 million in incentives to Bluff City […]

  2. 83ragtop50

    More of my tax dollars wasted. Bureaucrats cannot seem to dream up enough ways to squander the hard earned money they confiscate from us.