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Sunny Miami helps 'Burn Notice' shine

USA's ''Burn Notice'' films exclusively in Miami, unlike other Florida-set shows like ''CSI Miami,'' which is mostly shot in LA. USA's ''Burn Notice'' films exclusively in Miami, unlike other Florida-set shows like ''CSI Miami,'' which is mostly shot in LA. (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)
By David Fischer
Associated Press / June 5, 2009
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MIAMI - Every city has its own unique pulse of life. That's what Jeff Freilich, executive producer of the USA network series "Burn Notice," believes.

By setting the show in Miami - and filming it here - producers have been able to make the city itself a character.

"Burn Notice," whose third season began last night, is the top-rated cable show and the first scripted television series to shoot at least three seasons primarily in South Florida since "Miami Vice" more than two decades ago. Shows like "CSI Miami" are mostly filmed in Los Angeles.

As a multiethnic, multicultural, international city located in a tropical climate, it's nearly impossible to fake Miami anywhere else, Freilich said. Even the actors seem to respond to the climate and culture of the city.

"It's visceral, and it's something you can read on camera," Freilich said.

"Burn Notice" revolves around Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), a former US spy, who is fired in the middle of an operation and dumped in his home town of Miami. When a spy gets fired, it's called a burn notice.

Westen, with the help of his friend Sam (Bruce Campbell) and his sometime-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), uses his spy skills to help those in need, while trying to figure out who burned him and why.

Most television shows and movies set in Miami have been shot in LA over the years, but Freilich said it's never quite right. Miami's palm trees sprout fronds sooner, the leaves are greener, the ocean is more turquoise, and the city's signature Art Deco architecture is unmistakable.

By using the closed Coconut Grove Expo Center as their sound stage and headquarters, producers have been able to take full advantage of the city, said Matt Nix, the show's creator and producer. Besides having ample space to build sets, the building's centralized location makes it relatively easy for actors and crew members to film at locations as many as five days a week.

"You can go two miles away from the convention center and you can be in a working-class neighborhood that's a little rough," Nix said. "You can find mansions and suburban neighborhoods."

Nix initially wanted to tell the dark, gritty story of a spy who had severed all personal connections to enter the cutthroat world of international espionage.

He envisioned the show in Newark. Network executives quickly dismissed the idea and suggested someplace sunnier.

"I had to reconceive the show as something that would work in Miami," Nix said. "It became more about seeing this darker character in relief against a brighter background. I discovered in working on that, it freed me up creatively and made the show lighter and more fun to write. It actually turned out to be a great idea."

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