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TV Shows and Films Set in NJ Can Spell Big Payday for Tourism Industry

Caesars’ Circus Maximus theater hosted public viewings at the beginning of seasons two and three, but this year, the property has turned its attention to the Miss America pageant. Last month, ACCVA Director of Tourism Heather Colache, who remembers that the authority had previously distributed branded flasks and had decorated some travel trade-show booths a la 1920s, didn’t know of any properties reviving their own dormant promotions for the launch of season four.

“Atlantic City is constantly changing marketing initiatives. That was really hot for a year but we’ve moved on to other things,” she said before adding, “If at any time we have an opportunity to do things with Boardwalk Empire, we would.”

She notes, however, that a few establishments never concludedtheir Boardwalk Empire initiatives. The ACCVA’s own website still devotes space to tie-in content, and the Knife and Fork restaurant proclaims on its website, “Nucky ate here. Shouldn't you?” The Atlantic City Historical Museum maintains a robust virtual exhibition called “Nucky’s Empire: The Prohibition Years” and programs speakers to enhance its online offerings. The Great American Trolley Company runs a weekly “Roaring 20s” tour that makes stops at sites featured in the show.

Negative Portrayals?

It doesn’t seem to matter to tourists or tourism boosters that Thompson is at best a flagrant bootlegger and a pay-to-play politician and at worst, a double-crossing murderer. In combination with the high drama of the era, his compelling and complex character echoes the existence of a historical counterpart (though one who was reportedly less violent) to breed a fascination with the time period and the locale.

Similarly, seven years after the hit HBO series “The Sopranos” went dark, a weekly bus tour still shuttles fans around the gangland that ruthless mobster Tony Soprano ruled through intimidation and violence. Visitors gawk and point at the Seaside Heights “Jersey Shore” house where MTV reality star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and her often-inebriated friends spent summers, and the wait time outside the Hoboken bakery owned by TLC’s stubborn Italian “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro often exceeds a 90 minutes.

Gorelick doesn’t agree with suggestions that viewers of "Boardwalk Empire" or "The Sopranos" might be led to believe organized criminals run amuck in New Jersey or that shameless shows like "Jersey Shore" or “Real Housewives of New Jersey” reinforce negative stereotypes so much as to be detrimental. And even if they do, he says, municipalities that agree to work with them often end up laughing all the way to the bank. Of "Jersey Shore," he acknowledges, “It doesn’t portray the New Jersey shore as ideally as you’d like it to be portrayed. But I believe that show resulted in a twenty-to-thirty percent increase in business to Seaside Heights.”

Regardless of whether the edited programs portray their host locations flatteringly, these locales can earn residual tourism income from the perpetually high interest in movie sites. Gorelick says the authors of "The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations" call him every year to update their listings, and he fielded inquiries for years after the Tom Hanks blockbuster “Big” cast Cliffside Park as a nostalgic and idyllic suburb. “We value these films that portray New Jersey as a beautiful place to live,” he said.

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