It has been over a month since ATX Festival, and I’m only just now writing about it. Let this serve as a lesson for those of you on the fence about attending in 2017: ATX Festival- AKA television nerd camp for adults- is the hottest, Tex-Mexiest, most amazing weekend, but while you’re away, real life jealously sits by the window and waits. Sometimes, real life gets so jealous and vengeful that it buries you with work for four straight weeks upon your return. Don’t let this deter you, though. It’s entirely worth it.
This was my fourth ATX Festival, and it was a marked improvement over 2015. I saw both old shows and new and listened in on some very enlightening panels. I also reconnected with friends I’ve made through past festivals. Here is my wrap-up:
ATX tried something new this year by having panels and screenings start on Thursday afternoon. This was an inconvenience for some, but worked just fine for me as living within driving distance allowed me to arrive in Austin in the early afternoon. Not anticipating any travel fatigue, I held no prisoners in planning my schedule:
Fandom Rising was a very enlightening panel that discussed social media’s impact on both the television industry and showrunners/writers individually. The panel consisted of Hart Hanson (Bones), Carina Mackenzie (The Originals), Javier Grillo-Marxuach (The 100), Dan Amboyer (Younger) and Gus Sorola (Rooster Teeth).
Interesting notes include how Mackenzie got her current job through social media, the panel’s love for all things William Shatner, and Hanson’s reminder that at the end of the day, the fans do not control the show. Things got particularly interesting, however, when an audience member went right for Marxuach’s jugular and asked about Lexa, the beloved commander whose death created an internet firestorm earlier this year.
The room filled with a collection of gasps, eye rolls and mutterings of, “here we go.” Despite the question not being completely relevant to the topic at hand, however, Marxuach handled it gracefully. He apologized for something he stated over and over during the weekend, which was that the writers room at The 100 failed to recognize the cultural impact of their decision.
I feel that I summed up the moral of the panel quite well:
— Gina (@GinaWatchesTV) June 9, 2016
Unfortunately, a bit of travel fatigue and an upset stomach sidelined me for the rest of the night, but a solid night’s sleep did the trick and I woke up on Friday ready to take ATX by storm.
After a wonderful breakfast with friends, all of whom I’ve met through past Festivals, I lined up at Alamo for Casual at 10 AM.
Casual is a Hulu original comedy that follows newly divorced counselor, Valerie, her brother, Alex and daughter, Laura, as they navigate life and dating in Los Angeles. The second season premiered on June 7th, and Hulu recently announced that the show will also return for season three. The first episode picked up right where it left off, and was a welcome return to the world of Snooger, waffles and Leo’s adorable British accent. Casual’s most endearing quality is something the panelists- Jason Reitman, Liz Tigelaar, Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey and Tara Lynn Barr- almost immediately addressed: it doesn’t try too hard. The show thrives on understated comedy and as Watkins stated, the jokes never feel forced. Highlights from the panel include Tommy Dewey’s surfing metaphor- which I’ve tried to use far too many times since the Festival (each time tweeting Dewey like a child asking “did I do it right?”), and Watkins describing the show as a “love story” between a brother and sister instead of the romantic love stories we’re used to.
After Casual, I was lucky enough to stay inside the air-conditioned Alamo since I had a fast pass to the next event in the same theater.
My favorite thing about upfronts- aside from frantically refreshing Twitter to keep up with live-tweets- is watching promos for the new Fall shows. Last year, Quantico’s promo made a fan out of me before it even finished streaming. I waited patiently this year for history to repeat itself and watched trailer after trailer, hoping one would draw me in the way the FBI drama did in 2015. I almost gave up, but then Pitch showed up in my timeline.
Pitch is about the first female pitcher in Major League Baseball.
First. Female. Pitcher. In Major League Baseball. Pitch is a television show about a woman conquering what has historically been considered a man’s sport. That’s no small premise.
In a time where almost every television show is an adaptation, and networks prefer to be safe instead of take risks with their programming, I found it refreshing to see such a bold, original and timely premise on my screen. I was not the only one who felt that way, either, as the theater was jam-packed.
Pitch was excellent. The pilot addressed all of the questions and concerns one would expect to come with the first female in a male-dominated sport, but simultaneously did not make a big deal of it, either. The moments where Ginny Baker (played by newcomer Kylie Bunbury) struggled were human moments that had nothing to do with her gender, and if and when her male teammates tried to make gender an issue, Baker was quick to shut it down.
The show has a star-studded cast including Ali Larter, Mark Consuelos and Mark Paul Gosselaar. Gosselaar plays catcher Mark Lawson, the playboy team captain who initially has a chip on his shoulder, but eases up as the pilot goes on. The best part of the panel was seeing the chemistry between Bunbury and Gosselaar. Both were extremely complimentary of each other, but also unafraid to lay on the teasing. At one point, Gosselaar teased Bunbury for holding the mic for her as she answered a question, to which Bunbury responded with, “he’s Zack Morris! I should be holding the mic for him!” The two already appear to be good friends, and the pilot is promising that that friendship will translate to the small screen.
After Pitch, I headed to the Hulu lounge to charge my phone before the next panel at 3:30- which was one of the most enlightening of the festival.
Shifting Landscapes: The Effect of 9/11 on Storytelling-
One of my favorite panels of the festival, Denis Leary, Peter Tolan, Ryan Condal (Colony), Melissa Fitzgerald (West Wing) and Howard Gordon (Homeland) led a great discussion about 9/11 and how it has shaped the past fifteen years of television. The first question set the very serious tone when moderator Sandra Gonzales asked the panel where they were on that fateful Tuesday morning.
Leary’s story of where he was that morning was chilling. He and some other cast and crew had a late call time, so they spent the morning playing pickup hockey at Chelsea Piers in New York City. They saw and heard everything, but the part that rattled the room to its core was when they were forced to evacuate the ice so emergency workers could use it as a makeshift morgue for the victims.
The bulk of the hour was a discussion of issues that are still prevalent to this day. The panel pulled no punches as they discussed Rudy Giuliani’s treatment of firefighters and police officers in the wake of the attacks. There was also a lengthy discussion regarding our nation’s treatment of veterans, and even the current political climate. I was shocked that there weren’t more people in attendance.
After Shifting Landscapes, we headed back to the hotel to recharge in the air conditioning before venturing to the mother of all Friday Night Lights tailgates.
Friday Night Lights-
The magnitude of the Friday Night Lights tailgate did not hit me until days later. Not many people can say that they’ve lived part of one of their favorite television shows, but we did exactly that as we stepped under the blue and gold balloon archway and set foot on THE Panther Field. After grabbing dinner from one of the food trucks, we headed into Panther Fieldhouse to both explore and steal some time in the A/C.
Panther Field and the adjoining Fieldhouse sit unused and untouched just off of the highway in southeast Austin. As a result, the Fieldhouse is still full of Dillon Panthers memorabilia, and the infamous “P” and Jason Street’s signature remain on the wall.
We exited the back of the Fieldhouse and briefly chatted with actor Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins). Phillips informed us that the field of overgrown grass in front of us- and just behind Panther Field- was actually East Dillon’s field. He said that it was weird to be back, but equally cool at the same time.
At this point, I separated from my friends to get a blue paw painted on my face, and to get a photo with Scott Porter.
To put this in perspective, I met Jason Street ON Panther Field. I still can’t believe that.
We all relaxed and socialized as the sun went down. Once the clock struck nine, the cast was introduced. The highlight of this was when we realized that Queen Connie was in attendance.
After a brief Q&A, we settled in to watch one of the saddest episodes of the series, season four’s “The Son.” The episode was just as gut-wrenching and emotional as I remembered, but I was proud of myself for being able to hold back tears. I wasn’t so lucky the first time around.
We left Panther Field about 10 PM and returned to the hotel. A little post-FNL fun had me in bed around 1:30 AM. I figured with the events of the day, I’d sleep like a baby, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. My Fitbit said I slept for two hours. That’s about right, but that’s life at ATX Festival: lots of TV and very little sleep. It’s the absolute best.
Saturday was a light day due to a combination of my lack of sleep and time constraints, but it was still pretty great. I started with a panel on one of the biggest issues in the television industry, screened a new show and ended at a table with the cast of one of my favorite summer shows.
Bury Your Tropes-
There are two ways to get me out of bed in the morning: coffee and/or donuts. Saturday morning was the best because I got both. We jumped in line for the Bury Your Tropes panel and were instantly met by Javier- toting a bucket of donuts behind him.
We graciously accepted, then watched as Marxuach made peace with fans one donut at a time. He occasionally joked that if someone was still angry about Lexa, they could take two. The mood outside the Stephen F. Austin ballroom was pleasant, but- well- then the panel began.
Lesley Goldberg moderated the panel which consisted of Marxuach, Krista Vernoff (Grey’s Anatomy), Carter Covington (Faking It), Carina MacKenzie (The Originals) and Megan Townsend (GLAAD). Each panelist brought up very interesting points in discussing the trope. In my opinion, the most interesting moment was when Covington- who is openly gay- defended Marxuach regarding that fateful episode of The 100.
Marxuach reiterated that the writers room at The 100 failed to recognize the cultural impact that would follow Lexa’s death. He handled the weekend gracefully; he was exceptionally personable and kind to everyone he spoke to (including me), but never shied away from the Clexa sized elephant in the room. Marxuach gained copious respect from all fans in attendance that weekend. We’ve all made mistakes. It takes a big person to own up to that mistake, vow to learn from it and move on.
Other interesting points discussed during the panel were Vernoff’s refusal to sign the Lexa pledge, Covington’s revelation that networks fear thinking “out of the box,” and MacKenzie’s point that the trope would not be such a controversy if there was more representation on the air. I found it to be an excellent, well-rounded discussion of the issue, however, my Twitter mentions suggested the contrary. ATX Festival just posted the panel in its entirety, so please watch it and discuss- civilly.
I left early to make it to Google Fiber for Guilt, but this turned out to be a great thing. I stopped to say hi to a friend in the hallway when suddenly, the Earth shifted. The air in the room changed, the world stopped turning and whatever other dramatic thing you can think of happened. We were graced by the presence of the man, the myth, the legend himself: AARON SORKIN.
I wanted to linger to fully appreciate this moment, but I had to book it to the Google Fiber space for my next panel.
Guilt is the dark, twisty, Amanda Knox-esque Freeform original drama that follows foreign exchange student Grace Atwood after her roommate’s murder. I took my seat on the comfy couch in the front row and settled in for the screening, but I found the pilot a little disjointed. The show did present the main plot surrounding Grace, her sister, Natalie, and attorney, Stan, but also presented a subplot surrounding the third roommate, a sex club and a prince that it failed to tie in before the show’s end.
The panel following the screening consisted of actor Billy Zane and creator Katherine Price. Price talked about her idea for the show and where the season will take us, and Zane told us about the fun that comes with playing attorney Stan Gutterie. I left the panel feeling solidly “meh,” but have since given Guilt more episodes and fallen madly in love. Every week, the plot twists and turns in ways crazier than the prior week’s airing, and I end every episode figuratively jumping on my couch screaming “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” I definitely recommend it.
After Guilt, I headed back to the Hulu lounge to relax in the A/C before my interview with The Night Shift cast later that afternoon. I prepared questions while my phone charged and celebrities came in and out to sit down with a radio show broadcasting live from the festival. I watched as the cast from UnREAL, Denis Leary and the crew from Ugly Betty stopped in to chat and take photos before going on their way.
I headed downstairs to interview The Night Shift cast and had a wonderful time chatting and laughing with them. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check out my interview with the cast here.
Once I was done with the interview, the lack of sleep caught up to me and I went back to the hotel to nap for an hour. I quickly rejoined my friends, and we stepped out to eat at Frank’s, a hot dog place off Colorado Street. I kept it simple and got a regular hot dog with regular waffle fries, but one of my friends was adventurous and ordered waffle fries with peanut butter. I judged her a little bit- until I tried one. Delicious is an understatement.
We returned to the Hulu lounge, but eventually called it an early night. I knew I’d feel better with a full night’s sleep- so I returned to the hotel and was in bed by 11:30.
I don’t regret Saturday night’s decision at all because I practically jumped out of bed on Sunday. Most days, I’m a grouch before 8 AM, but I practically flew around the room getting dressed and heading to breakfast.
My day started with a sit-down with the cast of Royal Pains- which in hindsight was one of my favorite memories from the weekend. As we waited for the full cast to settle in, actors Paulo Costanzo and Henry Winkler engaged me in conversation, asking what exactly makes me a “nerd,” and what I’m currently watching on television. When I told Mark Feuerstein that I just finished binging Netflix original Bloodline, he excitedly asked me how it was and told me not to divulge any spoilers.
You can check out my chat with the cast of Royal Pains here. Our chat was great and ended with Paulo showing me videos of 1980’s painter Bob Ross and hugs all around. After a quick Starbucks run, I jumped in line for my first screening of the morning which was- you guessed it- Royal Pains.
When I hear the phrase “musical episode,” my inclination is to run. Scrubs pulled it off, yes, but Grey’s Anatomy was not so lucky. I worried upon hearing Royal Pains had a musical episode in their arsenal, but then quickly remembered that season eight is also the show’s last. If you’re going to take the risk of turning a drama into a musical, the penultimate episode of the series is a good place to do it.
I went into the screening skeptical of what we were about to see, but by the end was on the verge of happy tears. The musical episode- involving a patient who hears people singing- was perfectly executed and came with a very sweet message. Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Kitt penned six original songs for the episode, and everyone did an excellent job bringing Kitt’s words to life. My favorite performance came towards the end of the episode when Hank’s former patients danced and sang to assure Hank that no matter where life takes him, he’ll be okay.
The panel was enjoyable as the cast talked about their main takeaways from the show and their most memorable moments on set. Mark Feuerstein summed it up best when he gestured to his fellow panelists and said, “this is a family you’re staring at.”
I was fortunate to be present for ATX Festival’s first ever script reading in 2015. The gender-swapped reading of Dawson’s Creek pilot episode made me laugh so hard that I knew I could not miss this year’s event. Sixteen year old me lived for The O.C. I shipped Ryan and Marissa so hard that (a) I still get emotional when Ryan finds Marissa in the alleyway in T.J. and (b) I was too angry to continue after Marissa’s death. Seriously, don’t even mention Ryan and Taylor to me cause it will make me rage. Okay, it won’t, but you get my point.
The reading commenced with a writer’s room reunion. I loved reminiscing on the show I loved as a teenager through adult eyes, and almost squealed when one of the writers said that Dice by Finley Quaye was their favorite song from the show. Seriously- go click that link. I just rewatched the clip and now I’m smiling like an idiot similar to how I was the first time I saw the episode- when I was sixteen.
Just like 2015’s script reading, this year’s featured a gender-swapped cast. Arielle Kebbel read for Ryan, Mae Whitman read for Seth, Patrick J. Adams read for Marissa and Matt Lauria read for Summer. ATX Ambassador Nick Wechsler read for Luke, and it was through this reading that I found out he and Adams are the bromance I never knew I needed:
Lauria was hands-down the best part of the whole thing, though. Just watch and laugh with me:
Once the reading was done, Kebbel took a moment to address the audience. Sunday was the morning after the horrific attack in Orlando, and the panel wanted to send us home with a reminder to spread love. Kebbel’s reminder was the perfect note on which to wrap up the Festival.