AMC to rethink filming 'The Walking Dead' in Georgia if abortion law takes effect

PHOTO: AMC Newsroom

The network behind a show that's become part of Georgia's pop-culture fiber says it will "reevaluate" its activity in the state if a new abortion law goes into effect.

"The Walking Dead" is an economic powerhouse and brings streams of tourists to the Georgia towns where it has been filmed.

AMC Networks calls the abortion legislation "highly restrictive" and says in a statement it will be closely watching what's likely to be "a long and complicated fight" over the law. Georgia's ban on virtually all abortions will take effect next year if it's not blocked in the courts.

Hollywood's threats to shun Georgia could cripple its booming film industry — and the ramifications could spread to other Southern states, observers say.

"There are a number of states that are passing laws that Hollywood will find intolerable, offensive and therefore make it impossible for them to work in those states," said Tom Nunan, a moviemaker and lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.

"The South, if it's largely viewed as a red part of our country, is essentially telling Hollywood to take their business elsewhere," he said.

Georgia's law is often referred to as a "heartbeat" law because it bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

AMC's statement also mentions abortion bills in other states. That could put several states in what some observers have described as a "no-go zone" for TV and movie-making.

"Similar bills — some even more restrictive — have passed in multiple states and have been challenged. This is likely to be a long and complicated fight and we are watching it all very closely," AMC said.

The specter of a lengthy legal battle makes it more likely that the issue isn't going away anytime soon, said Nunan, a producer of the Academy Award-winning film "Crash."

"This is going to be a prolonged battle that not only Hollywood companies but I suspect other major corporations are going to call into scrutiny," he said.

Alabama lawmakers have passed legislation that would outlaw almost all abortions. It makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. An exception would be allowed if the mother's health is at serious risk.

A long list of TV shows and movies have filmed in Alabama in recent years. They include the 2014 movie "Selma" that recounted pivotal points in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Other movies shot in the state include "Get Out" and "Big Fish."

AMC is joining several other TV and film companies expressing concerns over Georgia's legislation, though no major studio has actually pulled out of the state.

"If the new law holds we will reconsider Georgia as the home to any new productions," WarnerMedia has said in a recent statement.

NBCUniversal has also said abortion laws in multiple states might affect future productions.

"If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future," the company said recently.

Georgia, with a long history of offering tax credits to lure TV and movie productions away from southern California, has become known as the "Hollywood of the South."

But California Gov. Gavin Newsom has used the abortion issue to try and win back some of that business. In a video, he mentioned new abortion laws in several states and appealed directly to people in the entertainment industry to come back to California.

"The fact is California has very different values — we believe in the fundamental right of a woman to decide her future as it relates to her reproductive health," Newsom said.

A turning point in Georgia's movie industry came in 1972 with the release of the movie "Deliverance," starring Burt Reynolds and filmed in the north Georgia mountains, according to historical accounts from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter saw the industry's potential after the success of that movie, and established a state film commission the following year, the agency said.

TV shows such as "The Dukes of Hazzard" and movies including "Smokey and the Bandit" were filmed in Georgia in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Georgia's film and television industry now supports more than 90,000 local jobs, the Motion Picture Association of American said in a report earlier this year.

"If Hollywood boycotts the film industry in Georgia, the people who are going to suffer are the crews and technicians in Georgia who really don't have influence with local politics," Nunan said. "It would be a real blow to the entertainment industry to lose Georgia.

"The entertainment industry is dead serious about this," he said.

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