Alisa Perren – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Report from the ATX Television Festival Sun, 10 Jun 2012 16:14:33 +0000 What is a “television festival”? What might such an event look like? The answers emerged at the ATX Television Festival, held in downtown Austin, TX from June 1st to 3rd.

What I discovered: A TV festival, at least as envisioned in this early iteration by organizers Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson, fuses elements of comic conventions, film festivals, and Paley Center-style panels. Further, this festival appealed to those interested in learning about the inner-workings of the television industry through sessions such as “Stages of a Writing Career” and “Book to TV Series.” It also targeted fans with panels dedicated to specific shows or genres (e.g., “One Tree Hill Says Goodbye” and “Friday Night Lights Revisited”). What’s more, it offered attendees the opportunity to revisit their favorite shows – or be exposed to new ones – through separate screenings accompanied by Q&As with key talent (e.g., the screening of the Criminal Minds season finale followed by a session with showrunner Erica Messer).


As these examples suggest, the ATX festival was ambitious in the types of programming it screened as well as the range of talent it featured. Though cult and genre fare had their place with panels such as “TV Fantasy Goes Mainstream” and screenings of shows such as Firefly, the organizers made a concerted effort to include other types of programming as well. Opening night included screenings of episodes of USA Network series Suits and Royal Pains. Highlights from local PBS station KLRU were shown during one session, while an unaired CW pilot, Heavenly, screened at another time. Saturday’s events began with screenings (and pancakes) sponsored by Hasbro Studios and The Hub.

The organizers should be lauded for their effort to appeal to both industry aspirants and everyday fans, and to feature both niche and mainstream fare. Considering this was their first attempt at such an event, its size and scope were impressive. By setting such wide-ranging goals, they exposed many of the challenges involved in conceptualizing and executing a “TV festival.” Still, I kept asking myself, “who is this for”? Can – or should – an event such as this try to cram so many views and visions of television into one weekend? Or should there be even more variety – more imported shows, more reality programming, more daytime content, more historical fare? And what does it mean to “screen” programming? Is the film festival screening model useful, especially since there is no competition component for a TV festival and much of the programming already has been aired and is now widely available for home consumption?

These questions should not be seen as criticisms of the event. Rather, they should point to larger questions about what the functions of a television festival might be and what audiences these events might attract. These questions seem particularly pertinent because the TV festival concept is such a compelling one; I can envision this type of event being replicated by other cities in the future. Of course, in asking these types of questions, I echo many of the larger questions about television that have been raised by TV studies scholars at conferences and in publications over the last several years. Perhaps this event was so intriguing to me because it was another way that television’s current messiness and uncertain cultural, technological, and industrial status were exposed.

To the best of my knowledge, and based on my conversation with McFarland and Gipson, the idea of a TV festival is a relatively new one. Though there are precedents in events such as the New York Television Festival and the Monte Carlo Television Festival – as well as the aforementioned festivals, comic conventions, and industry oriented panels – the ATX Television Festival nonetheless remains distinctive in its range of programming, its varied audience appeals, and its friendly, low-key Austin vibe. Certainly the idea of a TV festival seems like one whose time has come, especially in light of the greater cultural legitimacy with which (certain) television programming has come to be viewed. Nonetheless, programming a television festival looks to be a tricky endeavor, and this festival only reinforced this perspective.

To conclude, a few stray observations regarding what I found most striking in going to this event:

  • The attendees were predominantly white twenty-to-forty-something women. At one panel, “Conversation with Katims,” I took a rough head count of the room and noted that, of the approximately 60 attendees, 45 were women. In fact, there were more men in this session than in most others I attended. This is a marked contrast to the comic conventions and film festivals I have been to.
  • A recurring theme at the panels I attended involved the influence and importance of the WB network. This may have been because two of these panels were moderated by former WB executive Jordan Levin or it may be a result of the social ties of the attendees. Nonetheless, it was odd how often the netlet was evoked.
  • Television scholars and critics were largely absent from the festival, both as attendees and as moderators/panelists. This proved frustrating at times. For instance, the conversation at the enjoyable “Women in Television” panel might have had even more depth if some journalist-critics and scholars had been involved in the conversation. This type of event seems like just the right place for members of the industry, academy, and audience to engage in a productive dialogue about the medium.
  • On several panels, writers discussed the programs that most influenced them. The titles I heard most frequently cited might come as a surprise: Days of Our Lives, Cheers, and My So-Called Life.
  • One of the most enjoyable panels I attended was “Bill Lawrence and Friends.” Cougar Town showrunner Lawrence began the panel by giving the audience pennies to throw in the penny cans place on stage. Then, as Scrubs’ “The Todd” (Robert Maschio) moderated, Cougar Town’s Bobby Cobb (Brian Van Holt) served audience members wine.

What do you think of the idea of a television festival? Do you know of or have you attended similar events?


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Highs and Lows of Comic-Con 2010 Thu, 29 Jul 2010 12:55:41 +0000

Writing about Comic-Con proves to be quite the challenge in 2010. With at least seventeen panels running concurrently, and a reported 126,000 people roaming the halls (and waiting in line), there is no singular Comic-Con experience. Those with an interest in movies, TV, games, toys, and of course, comic books, are all likely to find something to satisfy them, assuming they can get a ticket to the sold-out four-day gathering and score a seat at a desired panel. (After waiting almost an hour, I failed to get into Sunday’s Glee panel in the 4,200-seat Ballroom 20.)

If you read the daily coverage from various TV, film, gaming, web video, and comics outlets, you might find it hard to believe that these writers all attended the same event. I was amused to hear one television critic talk about the growing prominence of television panels (e.g., Community, White Collar) only to, shortly thereafter, read an article from indieWIRE noting the heightened presence of indie films. Indeed, as much as it desperately needs a bigger venue, it might also be time to come up with a new name. Comic-Con does not accurately capture the range and diversity of events on offer.  Perhaps a better name might be “PopCultureCon” (or if you’re a cynic, “MarketingCon”), as seemingly any media property with the potential for generating buzz is on display. In fact, perhaps the only medium with a smaller presence now than it has had in years past are comics themselves, about which I’ve written elsewhere.

I tried to sample a variety of panels during my time at the Con. On Thursday, for example, I made it inside the infamous Hall H for Sony’s Salt/Battle: Los Angeles hour. Seating about 6,500, it’s the largest room in the complex, and the place where all the major motion picture distributors screen trailers and clips from their biggest upcoming films. During the first half of the hour, Salt director Philip Noyce, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and stars Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber briefly chatted with the moderator and then took a handful of questions from the audience. As their portion of the hour-long panel concluded, many in the audience departed. (Apparently, Jolie trumps Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez in an alien invasion film.) The same general format was then repeated – clips were screened, moderator and/or audience asked questions, talent darted out the back.

On Friday, I checked out smaller rooms and less hyped events. One panel I attended was for NBC’s mid-season series, The Cape, a superhero-themed action show featuring David Lyons (ER) and Summer Glau (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). The company screened what seemed to be a condensed version of the pilot (which I found underwhelming and cliché-ridden), followed by a brief Q&A with the creator, producer, and key talent. Based on the lukewarm audience response, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was retooled prior to airing.

Following The Cape panel, I headed over to Room 25ABC, where I squatted for the next couple of hours, waiting for the Roger Corman/New World panel. One of the odd aspects of Comic-Con – and, in my estimation, something desperately in need of being changed – is that once you secure a space in a given room for the day, you can stay for as long as you like. If you are interested in all of the panels taking place in the room, this is a great thing. But most people are waiting for one specific panel and thus sit through several earlier panels texting, playing games on their cell phones, flipping through the Con program, etc.

It is impossible to know how many seats will open up for a given panel. (See: my being shut out from the Glee panel.) As such, I planted myself in the room hours in advance. During my time there, I sat through a panel paying tribute to “The Adams Family” of comic book artists. This was followed by a panel sponsored by the small publisher, Archaia, devoted to a comic book, Lucid, and backed by Heroes/Star Trek star Zachary Quinto. As is often the case with such panels, it is hard to know how many people are there to hear the thoughts of the creative team and how many are there just to catch a glimpse of a particular star. Though I was mainly biding time through this panel, it did produce one of my favorite moments of the Con: Quinto publicly cut off an oblivious audience member to ask what he was talking about on his cell phone. It’s nice to know that the strategies used by teachers in the classroom work equally well when employed by Mr. Spock.

I’m happy to report that my hours of waiting for Roger Corman paid off, as I landed a seat close to the front. I was able to hear him, along with Joe Dante, Sid Haig, Mary Woronov and Allan Holzman, talk about their experiences working for New World Pictures in the 1970s and 1980s. Though the panel was far too brief to allow for the kind of in-depth discussion I would have liked (and audience questions were not permitted), we nonetheless heard some amusing tales about life in the “Corman Academy.” Interestingly, the next panel to take place in the room was for the videogame Gears of War 3. Based on the behavior and composition of the audience during the New World panel, you could tell that many were waiting for the subsequent panel. I only hope that those biding their time for the next panel had their interest piqued by tales of the shooting of Piranha and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

Did you attend Comic-Con this year – or have you in the past? I would love to hear your thoughts on this event, or on how you think it has changed over the years.


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