Western Pennsylvania lost out on a one-hour drama series when Netflix's Pittsburgh-set "Hemlock Grove" pulled out and opted to film in Toronto, but Nickelodeon's half-hour kids show "Supah Ninjas" soon will make Pittsburgh its home for its second season of production.
Nick has ordered 13 episodes of the program, which shot its first season at the Paramount lot in Hollywood. Sets were dismantled and trucked across the country. Filming will begin June 18 at the 31st Street Studios in the Strip District and continue through late September. Each episode shoots for about five days.
"Supah Ninjas" follows three teens -- Mike (Ryan Potter), an awkward high schooler who learns he's descended from a long line of ninjas; best friend Owen (Carlos Knight) and Amanda (Gracie Dzienny), Mike's longtime crush -- who receive guidance in the form of a hologram of Mike's dead grandfather (George Takei, "Star Trek").
The series was created by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia. Mr. Garcia grew up in Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair, and he's a 1986 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School and studied fine arts at Dickinson College in Carlisle. (The high school the kids attend in "Supah Ninjas" is called Benjamin Rush High School, named after the Dickinson College founder.)
"I'm super excited to take the show there because there is such a great depth of talent," Mr. Garcia said in a phone interview late Thursday from Los Angeles. "They just shot 'Dark Knight Rises' there, so we'll be in really good company. Our show takes place in a Gotham City-like world called Empire City, and Pittsburgh, among other benefits, can lend itself to that kind of vibe for any outdoor scenes, things we don't really have access to in L.A. like the old brick buildings and bridges, the rivers."
Mr. Garcia said he's eager to bring the work he's been involved in for the past 10 years back home to Pittsburgh where his parents, Dr. D.A. Garcia, a retired kidney specialist, and Bertha Garcia, a retired nurse, still live.
One of the challenges of filming a TV series outside a major production center can be reluctance among cast members to move away from family and friends for a long period of time, but Mr. Garcia said the "Supah Ninjas" cast is excited.
"Many times in their careers everything is not in their backyard of Los Angeles. When you're on a movie shoot, many times you're out of town somewhere, so they reacted positively," Mr. Garcia said. "Gracie is from Toledo, so that was very close for her."
He said Mr. Takei is excited, too.
"He's a real theater guy and is looking forward to things like the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and the Civic Light Opera," Mr. Garcia said.
While "Hemlock Grove" was expected to have a budget of $45 million, the budget for a season of a kids show like "Supah Ninjas" is probably closer to $12 million to $16 million.
"The budgets are different but it's getting Pittsburgh more into series production, which has been the long-term goal. This helps us show we're able to do that type of work," said Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer. "We're thrilled to welcome Nickelodeon. We haven't had them in Pittsburgh before, and it's more proof that our Film Tax Credit program is working and should be continued and increased."
Mosser Casting is heading the search for young actors ages 14-19 with theater experience for speaking roles and to play extras in the background on "Supah Ninjas."
Nancy Mosser said she's also looking for teens and adults with martial arts or gymnastics experience for speaking roles and stunt double work. She's also seeking teen girls with cheerleading experience. Anyone interested can send a headshot and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Supah Ninjas" in the email's subject line.
The first 26-episode season of "Supah Ninjas" aired original episodes throughout 2011 on Nickelodeon. Mr. Garcia said the network "wanted to get more of a boy show, an action show" on the air to complement its other programming.
Nickelodeon has not set a premiere date for the Pittsburgh-filmed season of "Supah Ninjas," but it will likely air late this year or in 2013.tvradio
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.