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Entertainment: Long Beach, the chameleon by the sea

February 16, 2011 |  1:13 pm

Long Beach

Does LeBron James know?

The NBA star famously ditched Cleveland this season for Miami. Turns out, he could've chosen the Clippers and gotten the same ambiance just a few miles down the road.

According to a story in The Times Business section Wednesday, Long Beach is the new Miami. Which is great news to those pinching pennies in this economy.  For Angelenos with a travel itch, it turns out that South Beach is just a Blue Line ride away.

OK, full disclosure: The story says Long Beach is a popular stand-in for Miami in TV shows and movies.

"It's Miami of the West," said Don Tardino. "The similarities are unbelievable." Tardino is the producer of the long-running CBS TV series "CSI: Miami," which, it turns out, is filmed mostly in Long Beach.

As the story says: "Thanks to its ability to stand in for Miami and other locales -- palm trees, clean beaches, cruise ships and waterfront McMansions -- Long Beach has emerged as one of the busiest hubs for on-location filming in Los Angeles County."

Long Beach's rise to movie and TV fame is certainly good news for Southern California's economy.  "CSI: Miami" alone employs a crew of 170 and has an estimated budget of at least $3.5 million an episode.

Which tracks with a new report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. that cites film and television production in Los Angeles as an engine of growth. According to the group's chief economist, Nancy Sidhu, motion picture and TV production added 16,500 jobs in 2010, and will continue to add jobs this year.  

And there are plenty of shows taking advantage of our little chameleon-city-by-the-sea:  Showtime's "Dexter," also set in Miami; "NCIS: Los Angeles"; "Medium"; "Criminal Minds"; and Fox's "Glee" (Cabrillo High School stands in for the show's "school" in Lima, Ohio).

And movies too: In the third, not-yet-released "Transformers" movie, that's not a suburb of Washington, D.C., it's Long Beach. In fact, in the second "Transformers" movies, that wasn't even Shanghai  -- Long Beach again.

I guess CGI takes care of the oil drilling platforms.  Ditto that big old ship in the harbor.

But at least we've finally found something those McMansions are good for.   

Of course, it's not all fakery. As the story says:  "CSI: Miami" producers "visit South Florida twice a year to shoot aerial video of Miami and environs that are seen in the show."

Which is a relief, because I was starting to think that either Long Beach is much cooler than I remember, or Miami has a wonderful PR department.  

However, with so much filming going on, I have a cautionary tale for the folks of Long Beach. Several years ago, I visited a location shooting for a friend's TV show. As I walked up, I was careful not to intrude on the scene. Noticing a mailman also waiting, I attempted to strike up a conversation:

"So, they're keeping you from delivering on this street, huh?"

He looked at me but said nothing.

Then, from across the street, someone shouted "Action!"

And the "mailman" started walking.


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Photo: Actor Jonathan Togo on location in Long Beach filming the TV series "CSI: Miami" on Tuesday. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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