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TV producer reaches a New Mexico milestone

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Standing outside Albuquerque Studios, Stewart Lyons feels like he’s in the middle of Afghanistan.

And rightfully so.

The desert area surrounding the studio is dressed as a military base in Afghanistan for a scene from a coming episode of NBC’s “The Night Shift.”

Stewart Lyons is often in his office, where he works while walking on a treadmill. (Courtesy of Stewart Lyons)

Stewart Lyons is often in his office, where he works while walking on a treadmill. (Courtesy of Stewart Lyons)

Standing outside is quite a change from Lyons’ office, where he does much of his work while walking on a treadmill.

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Lyons is a co-producer of “The Night Shift” and is coming up on 16 consecutive months of working on TV projects in New Mexico.

All the hard work has helped put Lyons in a class of his own.

Not only is he one of the most sought-after producers in TV, but he has produced 100 episodes of TV in New Mexico – a first for the state.

The Emmy Award-winning producer has reached the 100th episode with a mixture of projects in less than 10 years. From the pilot of The CW’s “The Messengers” to the short-lived “Scoundrels,” Lyons has been there.

Then, there are juggernaut “Breaking Bad” and its prequel, “Better Call Saul,” two shows that helped elevate the state’s film industry worldwide.

And at 9 tonight, “The Night Shift” will mark Lyons’ 100th episode. Each one has been filmed at Albuquerque Studios.

“I think the dedication of the crews has been a big thing for me being here,” Lyons says. “It’s been a great journey, and I enjoy what I do. I’ve met a lot of great people who support what we are doing.”

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Over the years, Lyons has seen the state’s TV industry ebb and flow.

“Right now, there’s a TV renaissance going on in the state. There’s so much production going on, and it’s busy,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed all kinds of support here. At one point, ‘Breaking Bad’ was one of the few shows shooting here, and we were carrying a lot of the load.”

Currently, “The Night Shift,” “Manhattan” and “Longmire” are filming in the state.

Shantel VanSanten plays Vera in "The Messengers." (The CW Network)

Shantel VanSanten plays Vera in “The Messengers.” (The CW Network)

One draw is that TV productions qualify for a 30 percent tax rebate if they film at least six episodes in the state. A new law would allow pilots to receive that level of rebate, as well.

Lyons’ love affair with New Mexico began in the 1990s with a made-for-TV movie called “Blue De Ville,” which he shot in Santa Fe. He was the first assistant director for the project. Since then, he’s moved up the ranks and picked up an Emmy Award as a producer on “Breaking Bad.”

TV production isn’t new to New Mexico, but, over the past decade, it has increased, much to New Mexico’s benefit.

When you break down the actual impact to the state, it’s phenomenal. For each TV episode, there is about $1 million to $1.5 million directly spent in the state. Multiply that by the number of episodes.

From left, Bryan Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito and Aaron Paul are seen in a publicity shot from "Breaking Bad." (Courtesy of AMC)

From left, Bryan Cranston, Giancarlo Esposito and Aaron Paul are seen in a publicity shot from “Breaking Bad.” (Courtesy of AMC)

“It’s easy to do the math,” he says. “There’s a lot of money that has been brought to the state just with my projects.”

For those who don’t want to do the math, Lyons’ productions have brought in a whopping $100 million to $150 million to the state.

Lyons says the number represents just the below-the-line jobs, which include crew members and extras.

“You spend more when you add in above the line,” he says.

Ann Lerner, the city of Albuquerque’s film liaison, has worked closely with Lyons over the years since the majority of filming took place in Albuquerque. She’s excited that Lyons has reached the 100-episode milestone.

“Stew is an ambassador for Albuquerque,” she says. “He truly loves being here, and he’s embraced the New Mexico film crews as a family. He’s giving New Mexicans a chance to advance in the industry, and it’s huge.”

Stewart Lyons is taking a break and won't be back for the second season of "Better Call Saul." Bob Odenkirk, above, plays attorney Saul Goodman in the "Breaking Bad" spin-off. (Courtesy of AMC)

Stewart Lyons is taking a break and won’t be back for the second season of “Better Call Saul.” Bob Odenkirk, above, plays attorney Saul Goodman in the “Breaking Bad” spin-off. (Courtesy of AMC)

And Lerner says Lyons has given back to the community while he’s lived in New Mexico.

Back on the set of “The Night Shift,” which follows a team of medical personnel working at San Antonio Medical, the actors gear up for another episode, which often has flashbacks to some of the doctors’ time in Afghanistan.

The show has an ensemble cast led by Eoin Macken and Jill Flint.

They are still waiting to hear whether the TV show will be renewed for a third season. The show is holding steady at more than 5 million viewers and continues to grow weekly.

“The numbers are strong, and the ratings continue to build,” Lyons says. “You never know with TV. It’s always a gamble. I think we’re putting out some great medical drama with this show and have some of the best people working on it.”

When production wraps for the TV show at the end of May, Lyons will head back home to California. He’s taking a break and won’t be back for the second season of “Better Call Saul.”

“It would be too much for me,” he says. “I’ve been working nonstop for 16 months, and I’d like to stay married. The ‘Saul’ guys are great and understood that I needed the break. I’m going to enjoy my downtime for a bit.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Assistant Arts Editor Adrian Gomez can be reached at agomez@abqjournal.com.

 


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