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If you were in downtown Austin this weekend, you might have seen a lot of pasty television fanatics lining up outside in the 90-degree heat. This mass of indoor kids was lured to Texas in the dead of summer by the ATX Television Festival. Now in its fourth year, this unique gathering features a diverse collection of programming celebrating many facets of TV from currently airing programs, departed favorites, upcoming pilots, as well as panels about the inner workings of the entertainment industry. Thanks to this year's programming centerpiece—a 15th anniversary reunion of "Gilmore Girls"—ATX sold out for the first time in its four-year history, introducing a new set of small screen devotees to this fast-growing fest.
Reuniting the cast and creators from a beloved series has been a centerpiece of ATX's programming since the festival began but nothing had sparked interest the way this year's "Gilmore Girl"'s reunion did. The show's creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was joined by a huge portion of the fast-talking WB dramedy's large ensemble, including stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. Unfortunately, the extreme popularity of the event meant that several disappointed fans were left outside of the theater for the two-hour celebration of seven years of Stars Hollow antics, along with a tribute to recently departed cast member Edward Herrman, for whom they left an empty chair at the end of the stage.
In addition to "Gilmore Girls," several other creative teams reunited to look back on the old days, including short-lived series like "Bunheads," "Journeyman" and "Boomtown," as well longer-running shows like U.S. adaptation of "Queer As Folk," "Dream On" and the recently concluded "Justified." Several writers from "Dawson's Creek," many of whom who have gone on to create their own shows, appeared on a panel reflecting on their time in the writers room and how it informed their careers. The show's creator Kevin Williamson also lead an entertaining staged reading of the "Dawson's Creek" pilot script with a collection of actors attending the fest, featuring some creative gender-swapped casting, including "Parenthood"'s Mae Whitman as Dawson and "Suits"' Patrick J. Adams as Joey.
In addition to celebrating series past, ATX hosted several screenings and Q&As for currently running shows, as well as some that will hit the airwaves very soon. Fox screened the pilots for three of their upcoming shows: "Rosewood," "Grandfathered" and "The Grinder"; ABC Family presented the first episode of their new series "Teachers"; and FX closed out Friday night's festivities with a look at their new Denis Leary comedy "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll". Panels for shows like "The Simpsons," "Empire" and "The Leftovers" reflected on the successes in their recently concluded seasons, while creators from "Rick and Morty", "Married" and "Hannibal" teased what's to come.
In a panel previewing the third season of "Drunk History," creator Derek Waters screened a new story narrated by "Community" creator Dan Harmon, while also sharing extended behind-the-scenes footage from season two of Duncan Trussell that illustrated his absinthe-fueled narration of the story of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla in all its vomit-filled glory. Harmon and his partners in "Rick and Morty," Justin Roiland and Ryan Ridley teased a clip from their second season which features Keith David voicing the President. Stephen Colbert and Werner Herzog will also be lending their voices the animated sci-fi comedy. FX's John Solberg announced that the critically acclaimed comedy "You're the Worst" will be returning in September, paired with the final season of "The League." Solberg conveyed a great confidence in the series, indicating that, with "The League" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" winding up their long runs shortly, "You're the Worst" is expected to be the leading voice for comedy on FXX.
While ATX draws its biggest headlines and crowds from the show reunions and appearances from TV stars, its best kept secret is the industry panels. While the fans who love to watch TV are vying for seats at the star-studded Q&As, those that long to contribute their own voices to the creation of television settle into panels featuring industry professionals involved in writing, directing, casting and more. One of the major highlights of ATX is always their pitch competition, which is now in its third year. The festival begins accepting 90-second video submissions for original TV show ideas in January and a group of judges—all of whom have experience buying or selling television shows—whittles that down to ten finalists. At the competition, the finalists are given three minutes to sell their show live to a panel of judges and, to a lesser extent, the audience. This year's contest featured some exceptional shows with the win going to Elizabeth Hara, who pitched a show called "Bully!," a saucy comedy featuring puppets that follows the adventures of President Teddy Roosevelt and his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. As the winner, Hara will have the opportunity to perfect her pitch with one of the judges before getting a chance to deliver it to potential buyers in Hollywood.
In its fourth season, the ATX Television Festival has certainly suffered some growing pains, with many returning attendees finding themselves turned away from packed panels and screenings for the first time. Still, the impressive slate of programming gave breathless TV fans and aspiring creators an opportunity to get up close and personal with the people behind their favorite shows, and share their love of the medium with fellow fans, and just maybe, get a chance to eat some really good barbecue in between panels.
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