Last weekend saw the second year of the ATX Television festival, an up-and coming three day festival that covers all things TV, from big hits like Scandal, to fondly remembered shows of yesteryear like My So-Called Life and Boy Meets World. The festival featured panels discussing television both culturally and intellectually, its foggy future, and the rapidly changing landscape, along with screenings of new and old shows alike, providing a varied schedule for its attendees.
It would be difficult not to start with the headlining event: the Boy Meets World reunion panel. I didn't attend this panel, mostly because I am a bitter, depressed curmudgeon that hates nostalgia, especially for the 90's, but it was the talk of the fest. Everyone was excited to catch up with Corey and Topanga, along with the rest of the BMW gang, not only to celebrate the past but to look forward to the future with the sequel series, Girl Meets World.
Instead of that panel on Friday, I attended three smaller panels held in the next door hotel. The first panel of the morning showcased Channel 101, an experimental project from Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab. Channel 101 is essentially a monthly competition where filmmakers from across the country submit short tv episodes that are five minutes or less, and the top five are voted on to receive another episode. The longer you stay in the competition, the better odds you have of completing your story. They showed a few clips of winning shows from Channel 101, all of which relied heavily on pop culture satire. The response in the room from the selected clips were tepid to put it kindly. But Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab know how to run a room, so the panel wasn't boring, even if the questions were a little light.
Following that panel, I attended one on the topic of the "anti-sitcom", with panelists Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab (they recycled a lot of panelists, as most conventions and fests do) along with Paul Scheer and Tim Doyle (of ABC's Last Man Standing). With all of the "alternative" showrunners and TV writers on the panel, the most insightful about the form of the sitcom was Tim Doyle from the most formulaic of the represented shows. His experience on shows like traditional fare such as Big Bang Theory and Roseanne (though it's easy to argue how ahead of its time Roseanne was) to more experimental shows like Better Off Ted and the fantastic and totally underrated Aliens in America gave him so much insight into the form of the sitcom.
Finally, I attended one last panel (I'll just say it, I went to a lot of damn panels this weekend) about changing roles in Hollywood, how someone can transition from actor to writer to director. Surprisingly Dan Harmon wasn't on the panel, but Tom Verica from Scandal and American Dreams, Scott Aukerman of Mr. Show and Comedy Bang! Bang!, Dan Bucatinski from Grey's Anatomy and The Comeback, and my favorite discovery of the weekend, Brad Bell of the web series Husbands. The panel went disastrously, with a moderator that offended both the crowd and the panelists with his dismissive attitude and constant questioning of their artistic intentions, but Brad Bell swooped in and saved this sinking ship with great insight into his transition from YouTube celebrity to producer and writer. But mostly, he expertly filibustered the awful moderator.
For day two of the festival, I woke up extra early to attend the panel for Friday Night Lights. Intended as a cast diary, the moderator showed various clips and the attending cast would provided their commentary. The cast members they brought out were all supporting characters, with one big surprise that was expertly kept under wraps: stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. When they were brought out (which was done by "accidentally" showing a scene between the two of them), the audience rightfully went apeshit (as did I). Chandler and Britton are still just as charming in real life as they were for five years in Dillon, TX.
I left a smidge early to grab a slice of 7/11 pizza and to get a good seat for the Husbands/Stupid Hype panel. Once again, I was charmed by Brad Bell who, along with his Husbands co-star and co-writer Sean Hemeon and Jane Espenson, was so well spoken and incredibly intelligent. He is a breath of fresh air in the television world and it's great to see LGBT creative types that aren't at by Logo and Bravo. The Stupid Hype portion of the discussion proved to be less interesting, probably because the web series has already aired and there won't be any new episodes.
Finally, I went to the screening of the new AMC drama Low Winter Sun. AMC does not need anymore dark, gritty crime dramas, and this may be what puts the nail in that overused coffin. The show stars Mark Strong and Lennie James as two Detroit police officers that kill another cop and try to cover up the crime. While this seems like an interesting idea for a miniseries (probably because it's adapted from a UK miniseries), it's very difficult to see how this show can be an ongoing series, which according to the Q&A afterwards, the creators definitely intend to have it run indefinitely.
While I didn't have as much fun as I did during SXSW, I still made some very interesting discoveries, mostly Brad Bell. And honestly, this is a very young festival, so it's not fair to knock it for not being too exciting. I can't wait to see ATX TV Festival's growth, and I really hope it gets a third season.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.