Gov. Kathy Hochul is being urged by black leaders to sign a bill into law to provide a controversial film tax break to the Sherri Shepherd morning talk show, which replaced the Wendy Williams show and films in New York.
The unusual carve-out is being advocated by lawmakers who feel that Shepherd’s production deserves the same tax consideration that Williams got, even though such breaks are no longer given to talk shows under the law.
Sponsors of the bill — which passed both state legislative houses in June — fear Shepherd’s show will move to Los Angeles if it is forced to pay normal taxes, and that will reduce the “diversity” in New York media.
“If we allow the Sherri Shepherd show to leave New York, what message are we sending to the diverse audience that supports it?” Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, chairwoman of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus said in a letter to Hochul.
“Surely, we want people to recognize that New York did everything it could to keep this woman of color in New York.”
While supporters press the governor, critics are blasting the special law for Shephard as corporate welfare provided to firms that don’t need it.
“How about spending our state taxes on schools, clean water and subways instead of Hollywood producers and millionaire TV stars?,” said John Kaehny, director of the government watchdog group Reinvent Albany.
“The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon got $24 million in state money in 2021. Why does Jimmy Fallon deserve state handouts more than Sherri Shepherd or any other new show? He doesn’t — none of these variety shows should be funded by state taxpayers. The State should pass a new law ending this highly politicized and wasteful subsidy — not pass new laws benefiting one variety show.”
New York State has a generous $420 million film and TV industry tax credit that provides sweeteners to movies and TV shows that film in local studios and employ local residents.
Asked about the bill, a spokesman said, “Governor Hochul is reviewing the legislation.”
The Shepherd measure is sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman, whose district office is located near her set, and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and backed by the Black, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus and a group of black ministers.
Initially, talk shows were never given the film tax credit because they had small sets and employed too few people to justify the subsidy, sources said.
But the talk shows then reclassified as “variety shows” and became eligible for the tax break. But since 2020, new variety/talk shows were no longer eligible to receive the New York film tax credit.
However, the Wendy Williams show and others like it were “grandfathered in” and continue to be eligible for the tax credit, backers of the Sherri Shepherd show said.
Supporters said “Sherri” is basically a continuation of the Wendy Williams show, using the same producers and 100-member staff in the same Chelsea and should be treated the same for tax purposes.
Lawmakers are concerned that the “Sherri” show will be considered a new program and no longer eligible for the tax credit — and wrote a carve-out bill to specifically provide the subsidy.
Shepherd, like Williams, is black and racial and ethnic diversity in the film industry should be maintained, backers of the film tax break said.
“Absent the receipt of the credit it is highly likely that this show will be transferred to Los Angeles for production. We must not let that happen,” Solages said in her letter to Hochul.
Some backers of the bill compared the situation to the tax breaks provided to successive hosts on the Tonight Show.
“All of us remember the series of accommodations and incentives that were given to Jimmy Fallon to bring the Tonight Show to New York,” said Carl Washington, president of the Empire State Missionary Convention.
The Empire State Development agency that oversees the film tax credit program confirmed that it does not cover new variety shows, documentaries and talk shows that have not relocated from another state.
Wendy Williams applied for the tax credits before her show ended, and before new legislation took effect. The application is still under review, the agency said.
The Sherri Show, with a different name, host, and different marketing and advertising campaigns, “is a new variety show which is now legally excluded from the program,” ESD said.
“The Sherri Show has already filmed over 50 episodes w/o receiving a tax credit.”
The bill was sent to Hochul for action on Monday. Hochul is expected to approve or veto the proposed law on Dec. 23.
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