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May 27, 2024

Some TV shows recently have faked being in Philly for the small screen

As stand-ins for the city, 'Abbott Elementary' has filmed in Los Angeles and 'Alert: Missing Persons Unit' has shot in Montreal.

TV Filming
TV set in Philly Gilles Mingasson; Disney/Jake Giles Netter; Max

'Abbott Elementary' filmed a field trip episode in Los Angeles with an impressive dupe of the giant wooden slide in Smith Memorial Playground. 'Hacks,' likewise, shot in the California woods for a recent story set in West Chester.

Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs have been all over TV lately, but if you look closely, you might see something a little uncanny about the City of Brotherly Love.

A string of shows have aired recent episodes set in the area but filmed in cities thousands of miles away. "Abbott Elementary," the hit ABC sitcom set in a Philadelphia public school, has always shot in Los Angeles — with one key Season 2 exception — but the show recently took its TV magic to new heights by recreating the giant slide at Smith Memorial Playground for a field trip episode. The set was faked with help from the real East Fairmount Park playground, which shared its original architectural drawings with the crew.

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But "Abbott" is not alone in its creative deception. In a Season 3 episode of "Hacks," which hit Max on May 16, lead characters Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and Ava Daniels (stealth Eagles fan Hannah Einbinder) get lost on a hiking trail supposedly near the QVC headquarters in West Chester. The show's creators revealed on the official "Hacks" podcast, however, that filming was split between Angeles National Forest and Griffith Park in California.

"Angeles National Forest ... does look like Pennsylvania, and I hope people think that," co-creator and co-star Paul W. Downs explained. "I'm sorry to burst a bubble, but it was in Los Angeles."

Adam Bricker, the show's director of photograph, added, "We had to go pretty deep in the woods to make it believable for Pennsylvania." 

The crew apparently scouted several locations, traveling down a canyon for their eventual set. According to Downs, it was significantly colder in the thick of the woods than it was back in the city, "which was good because it was playing as Pennsylvania in November."

Faking Philly is not exclusive to comedies. The Fox procedural "Alert: Missing Persons Unit," which is currently airing its second season, follows fictional Philadelphia Police Department officers investigating missing persons cases in the city, by way of the streets of Montreal. The Canadian version of our city still has SEPTA buses — as seen in the season premiere "Bus 447," which concerns a hijacking — but regular commuters might notice the seats don't quite match. (Honestly, they look a little more comfortable.)

Philadelphia dupes may be rampant, but some shows have committed to filming our fair city up close and personal. "Task," the upcoming HBO crime drama from "Mare of Easttown" creator Brad Ingelsby, has been shooting in Philly and its nearby counties since at least March, while crews for the AppleTV+ production "Sinking Spring" were spotted at the Franklin Institute and in Northern Liberties in December. Both series are still in production.

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