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$16 million in tax breaks ensure CBS' Late Show stays in NYC

$16 million. That's how much in tax breaks CBS is eligible for by keeping The Late Show in the Big Apple.

The bulk of the money is $11 million in tax credits over five years. Then there's another $5 million in grants from Empire State Development to offset costs of renovating the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway for its soon-to-be-new host Stephen Colbert.

Stephen Colbert appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman on April 23, following the announcement that the Comedy Central funny man would take over the CBS program after Letterman retires in 2015. Colbert came armed with a Top Ten list he submitted for a writing job on Dave's show in 1997.

West Coast vs East Coast redux: Los Angeles had tried to woo the CBS late-night entry, hoping to fill the broadcasting gap left when NBC returned to the East Coast when Jimmy Fallon took over. NBC also got tax breaks for that eastward migration.

The prospects of relocation to Hollywood, however, were slim, even without New York's added incentives. Colbert has lived and worked in the greater New York City area for years. He and his family live in New Jersey.

Still, New York didn't want to take any chances.

CBS officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other Empire State lawmakers are pleased with the new deal. So are the workers who fill the 200 or so New York-based jobs that support the program's year-round production.

But others aren't as copacetic about what they view as a waste of taxpayer money.

E.J. McMahon, the president of the nonprofit Empire Center for Public Policy, called the CBS deal the "latest in a series of giveaways to the entertainment industry. We're going to basically pay CBS to keep the Letterman Show where it already is."

Another tax credit loss for California: In addition to causing the latest debate about the efficacy of New York film and TV tax credits, the $16 million is this week's By the Numbers figure.

It's also an amount that's causing consternation in California.

It's not that the Golden State doesn't offer tax breaks for such productions. The California Film and Television Tax Credit Program started in February 2009.

Since then, according the California Film Commission's July progress report on the tax break, approximately $700 million in tax credits has been allocated to or reserved for eligible projects.

"This $700 million investment yields $5.39 billion in total aggregate direct spending by projects in-state, including an estimated $1.72 billion in qualified (below-the-line) wages," wrote report author and Commission Executive Director Amy Lemisch.

But the news is not all good.

Lemisch also noted that "due to the limited availability of tax credits…California continues to lose overall market share, and has in effect forfeited certain types of productions" to states and countries that offer similar tax incentives.

"While some productions elect to shoot in California without a tax credit, the majority of projects -- especially those with larger budgets -- leave," wrote Lemisch. She estimated that these "runaway" projects accounted for a loss to other states of nearly $2 billion.

Expect this latest report to bolster efforts by California lawmakers and the state's film and TV industry to expand the state's production tax credit program.

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