It's a typical work day for Robb Weller and Gary Grossman, who are training a future host of a new cooking show and maneuvering to get a film crew into Jordan for a television special.

Two blocks away, at GRB Entertainment, Chief Executive Gary Benz is getting behind-the-scenes studio footage to compile a "making-of"-type show. Another mile down the road, producers at LMNO Productions are wading through tapes to find the "World's Funniest Pet Tricks."

Dubbed "Reality Row," a stretch of Ventura Boulevard through Sherman Oaks has over the last decade emerged as ground zero for reality-based television production. At least a dozen production companies have grown up within throwing distance of each other, as the market for first-run reality programs keeps exploding.

"There used to be a company behind us and there's a couple down the street," said Weller, executive producer at Weller/Grossman, which has produced episodes of the "Biography" series and the new "Top 10's" series, both on A & E;, as well as cooking shows for the Food Network, among other programs. "I'm not sure why that is. It may be the only place we could all find affordable space."

Whatever the reason, a slew of reality producers are concentrated along the stretch, including MPH, Termite Art Productions, Creative Production Group, PieTown and Greystone Communications, to name just a few.

'Most convenient area'

They've come mostly because the Ventura Boulevard offices are close to the TV network operations in Burbank and on the Westside.

"For what we do, it's the most convenient area in the city," said Eric Schotz, chief executive of LMNO Productions, which just relocated a few blocks down Ventura Boulevard to Encino from Sherman Oaks. "You can get anywhere in a heartbeat. I live in Calabasas, which is the reason I started here. I didn't want to commute, and working with major networks that are in Burbank, Century City and L.A., the most central location was Sherman Oaks."

Like a handful of others, Film Garden, which produces "The Secret World of" for the Learning Channel and other nonfiction programming for other cable networks, was formed by executives who started at other East Valley reality production companies and settled in the same area. Nancy Jacobs Miller opened Film Garden in the Sherman Oaks/Studio City area five years ago, also because of its central location.

"There's easy access to a number of places we do business with," Miller said.

Near Film Garden is GRB Entertainment, one of the first to locate to the area in the mid-1980s. Benz first opened the company in Hollywood, but says he moved it to Studio City a year later for the central location. GRB has focused on action-based reality programs such as "Hollywood's Greatest Stunts" for the Discovery Channel.

Reality TV growing

Joanna Lowry, vice president of marketing and new business development for LMNO, said when the company was in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, television programming executives who visited said they liked the location. "We do a lot for programs for Lifetime, and an executive said they liked coming to our offices because they could come visit us and go across the street to visit another company they worked with," Lowry said.

Since the early 1990s, reality television has been growing exponentially thanks to the growth of cable and the popularity of reality shows on network TV.

"There's a very large demand for what we're doing," said Schotz. "We don't compete in this area. There's plenty of room for all of us that do this."

Miller agreed that it's mostly friendly competition. "In reality, everybody kind of knows each other," she said.

LMNO, which stands for Leave My Name Off, has grown to more than 125 full-time employees from just a few in 1990. Last year, the company formed a partnership with London Weekend Television to produce reality programming in Britain and Europe. Its more well-known programs include the new "Kids Say the Darndest Things" on CBS and Fox's "Guinness World Records: Primetime."

Earlier this year, Axel Springer TV International Ltd. of London bought a 51 percent interest in GRB Entertainment, giving the company a foothold in Germany and expanding its base of 300 employees.

Weller/Grossman also has grown to more than 100 employees from a small start in the early '90s. In the coming months, the company will nearly double its post-production space and expand programming into international markets. In 1999, it produced a record 350 hours of programming for cable networks, and company officials say they expect that number to increase in 2000.

Most reality TV executives say 1999 was a record year in terms of hours of production, and they expect 2000 to be even better. "Last year we did over 100 hours of programming," said Miller of Film Garden. "This year, we have in excess of 40 hours for January alone. Business is going very well."

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