Fire officials said the helicopter made a safe landing and its two occupants walked away uninjured.
"It's a testament to a seasoned pilot," said Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Elder.
The pilot, Tim Lynn, said a pilot from a rival TV station first alerted him about the smoke as they were on assignment over the scene of a shooting investigation in the early evening. Lynn then realized his helicopter was leaking oil.
Lynn said his first thought was to find somewhere to put it down during rush hour traffic in Hollywood. He said he first considered landing in a high school football field before spotting the empty lot next to a senior center.
Asked if he felt lucky, he said, "Lucky there's an open parking lot in Hollywood. Lucky that I've had good training all the years I've been flying."
For his passenger, photographer Jeff Laabs, it was his second day on the job.
"Definitely had my heart pumping. I was nervous, I was shocked, I was scared, all in one," Laabs said. "Second day of shooting news and now we are the news."