FX’s “Louie” and the Case of TV’s Fake NYC Subway, solved? Randall’s Island Fire Academy Subway Simulator

Ever watch a sitcom that’s set in New York City and obviously filmed in the city, that takes you out of the element once they move to a subway platform or train that’s equally obviously not part of NYC’s MTA system?

Sure. Plenty of times.

Turns out that fake NYC subway you see in some TV shows and movies usually, in fact, is an official but rarely seen part of the mass transit system. Sometimes it’s one of the shuttle trains (there’s one that connects Times Square to Grand Central Station, for starters); previously, it had been set on a simulation train that the FDNY still uses out on Randall’s Island. Emphasis on had.

The discussion came up when Louis C.K. and Blair Breard, his other executive producer on FX’s Louie, were talking Thursday night at a PaleyFest: Made in NY panel at The Paley Center for Media. “We used to shoot in Randall’s Island,” CK told the audience and moderator James Poniewozik from TIME magazine. “It was a fireman’s training (facility).”

CK said he thought filming inside Grand Central Station during season two was going to be his trickiest NYC shoot, but quickly learned otherwise. “New York is great, because people really don’t give a shit. So, even when I see people that are fans, they’re just like, they’ve got somewhere to go. So they keep moving,” CK said. And Grand Central Station is even more so, he added, with the crowd seemingly changing and refreshing behind the camera every few minutes. “They’re all moving, so no one has time to mess around…everyone’s running for a train.”

Then CK reflected: “What’s the hardest place that we’ve shot? The subway is a pain in the ass.”

“The subway is the hardest place to shoot,” Breard said. “If you live in New York, and you’re an artist, you’re a writer, you’re creating stories because you’re living them — the subway is the hardest place to try and recreate them. Because they’re very restrictive. They’re very expensive. You can’t shoot like we do in the street with people and life just going on.”

CK: “We used to shoot in Randall’s Island…it was a fireman’s training.”

Breard: “There was a fire department training facility. And they had sort of four subway cars…and you could just go back and forth, and back and forth, and sort of shake the car yourself, and it was free!”

CK: “Yeah, didn’t cost anything.”

Breard: “And everybody shot there. And then the MTA didn’t like that, and they shut it down.”

CK: “Yeah, I don’t know why. But. Yeah. You had to have like five heavy grips on top of the car, just rocking it, so it looked like…anyway, so now you get the S train. The shuttle train. And you can just kind of go back and forth between two stations. Because nobody takes it. Who takes the fucking…? (audience laughs) You can have it at midnight. But it doesn’t look like any other… Anyway. We didn’t come here to bitch about the MTA. (Audience laughs) But we might as well. They’re inflexible….mmmm. Anyway.”

This message not brought to you by Joe Lhota’s mayoral campaign.


The FDNY’s Fire Academy on Randall’s Island includes tracks with two subway train cars installed by the MTA for simulations of fire drills on both modern and older models of the subway system. The MTA’s official guide to filming underground in NYC doesn’t offer Randall’s Island as a location, but does note “film-friendly stations and lines” — among them, the Grand Central-Times Square Shuttle, and the Church Avenue F stop in Brooklyn; the latter, because its station includes multiple levels of tracks that often aren’t in use.

The fourth season of Louie started production this week, and will premiere on FX in May 2014.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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