The eighth day of the ATX Television Festival Season 10 kicked off with another live episode of The Daily. Festival co-founders Caitlin & Emily briefly discussed yesterday’s programming, previewed today’s events, and showed another installment of “Adventures in Austin! with Caitlin & Emily” where they went on a ghost tour at the Driskill Hotel with guest Brett Dier (Jane the Virgin), led by tour guide Maddy Moore. Then Carina MacKenzie (Roswell, New Mexico) joined the ladies in person to discuss her time at past festivals, including the first season when she attended as press, what she’s currently working on, and what she’s been watching.
It was a packed day of panels and screenings…
Showrunner State of the Union
In this follow-up to one of the most popular panels of last year’s ATX From The Couch, this panel featured executives from several top TV shows discussing the setbacks early in their careers, the challenges of running a TV show, especially during the pandemic, and shared lots of interesting stories about their current projects and the state of the industry. The live panel was moderated by Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair, and included Angela Kang (Showrunner/Executive Producer, The Walking Dead), Steven Canals (Showrunner/Executive Producer/Director, Pose), Michael Waldron (Head Writer/Executive Producer, Loki), Courtney Lilly (Showrunner/Executive Producer, Black-ish), and Robin Thede (Creator/Showrunner/Executive Producer/Actor, A Black Lady Sketch Show).
The Amazing Race: 20th Anniversary Panel
I have been watching The Amazing Race since the beginning, and was really looking forward to seeing this 20th anniversary panel, especially since the series has evolved so much since the first season winners played the game. Before the panel, Caitlin & Emily did a live interview with Colin & Christie from season 5/winners of season 31. They talked about how they first got involved with the show, and how things were different the second time around. They also talked a bit about the show’s logistics, like getting food and breaks between legs, and how the way they were being mic’d would give hints about what the challenge would be. Christie also talked about how she knew Colin was being made out to be the villain of the season as they were filming by the types of questions they were getting. The couple also mentioned their least favorite challenge ws eating the 2 pounds of caviar and vodka in Russia in season 5, and discussed some of their favorite challenges.
The panel that followed was moderated by Michael Schneider of Variety. He first brought out Phil Keoghan (Host/Executive Producer), who jokingly opened by saying he read the clue—the memo to wear the blue shirt. He then talked about the importance of reading the clue, which is the most often mistake the contestants make. He said it was bizarre looking at bits of the first season recently, and that he looks like a boy. Phil discussed how his role has evolved as the show has evolved, and how he enjoys having fun with the teams. He also talked about his eyebrow raise in season 1 became a thing, and how it was originally inspired by Steve Austin on The Six Million Dollar Man. When asked about the dicer moments on the show, he talked about how it is often a race for the production crew as well—they have to get places before contestants, and they also get lost sometimes. He mentioned that in season 10, he had an issue with Immigration in Ukraine and had to stay overnight and barely made it to the mat. Also, some political unrest in Argentina one season caused them to scramble and rewrite the scripts/challenges for the next show. The first season was 32 days, but current seasons are down to 21 days, so things are faster paced and more frantic. He also talked about the decision to put things on pause during the 33rd season at the start of the pandemic. He said the show will definitely be back, it’s just a matter of when.
Then Michael Schneider brought out some of some of the fan favorite racers from previous seasons, including Rob Frisbee & Brennan Swain (Season 1 Winners), Tamara (Tien-Jan) “Tammy” Jih & Victor Jih (Season 12 Winners), Leo Temory & Jamal Zadran (All-Stars and three-time competitors), Amy DeJong & Maya Warren (Season 25 Winners). Several of the contestants had never met before. Rob & Brennan talked about how the show has changed since they did it. They had no idea what they were getting into, and in their season they had to book the flights—the show was more about the travel drama, where now it’s focused more on the tasks. Phil said that this was partially due to the changes in travel and flight availability. Tammy talked about how her children are starting to watch the show, and don’t know she and Victor were on it yet, but she’s looking forward to seeing them discover it. Phil mentioned that some teams tended to sneak up on him at the mat, but with the Afghanimals, the production team always knew they were coming from a mile away. Leo & Jamal said their third time around wasn’t as stressful for them. Phil teased them that all the other teams only got one shot and they won, but they couldn’t even win with three tries. This led to a discussion amond all the teams as to whether they would rather have been able to run the race three times and never win, or just run it once and win. Amy talked about running race while she was injured (had a broken pelvis), and how she and Maya figured out how to strategically make it work from leg one.
The contestants discussed the pressure the teams are under, and how this may lead to them missing the clue box or misreading the clue, which the armchair watchers always call the out on. Maya also talked about the mental challenges of the game. Victor brought up that a lot of stuff doesn’t make it to the camera, like the private discussions between the teammates on how to support one another. When asked about the most shocking thing they saw while watching their seasons back, Rob said that Brennan is the real talker in the duo, but they always used Rob’s clips, making it look like the opposite was true. Maya said that editing for season 25 was pretty accurate for everyone. Victor talked about how the contestants don’t see the episodes early, and so he warned family members before the episodes, but he came off better than expected. Brennan said he was more surprised to see what other contestants said about them. Finally, the contestants talked about some of their traumatic moments during the race, and what they took away from the experience.
Casting: Non-Fiction Series
Moderated by Emily Longeretta of Us Weekly, this panel took a look at casting directors look for when they are casting contestants, hosts, judges and experts for reality shows, and how the process has changed due to the pandemic. They also discussed the unique challenges of casting an All-Stars season. Panelists included Ron Mare (VP of Casting at Magical Elves; Casting Director, Top Chef, Project Runway), Megan Sleeper (Casting Director, Born This Way), Ethan Petersen (Casting Director, RuPaul’s Drag Race) and Pamela Vallarelli (Senior Director of Talent & Casting, ITV America; Casting Director, Queer Eye).
Happy Hour with Guests
Matt Lauria (Friday Night Lights) joined Caitlin & Emily to talk about past festivals, getting the role on Parenthood, and his current project, CSI: Vegas. Then the ladies made some cocktails and snacks with bartender Francesca and chef Jeffrey. And then they were joined in person by Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights), who talked about her flight to Texas, what she’s been watching, foods to pair with TV shows, FNL, and more.
Work In Progress: A Conversation on Queer Storytelling
In this panel moderated by Trish Bendix of The New York Times, the cast and creatives behind Showtime’s Work In Progress discussed the series, representation, the challenges of creating the show during the pandemic, and combining comedy with more serious topics of mental health. The panelists included Abby McEnany (Co-Creator/Executive Producer/Writer/”Abby”), Lilly Wachowski (Showrunner/Executive Producer/Writer/Director), Samantha Irby (Consulting Producer/Writer), Yance Ford (Director) and Celeste Pechous (“Campbell”).
History of Them: Unaired Pilot Screening and Q&A
The festival gave viewers the chance to screen the unaired pilot History of Them, a multi-cam comedy revolving around the story of two friends and how they fell in love. The story is told from the point of view of their daughter, who is looking back through the couple’s social media posts, like a scrapbook, to recount their story. It felt a lot like How I Met Your Mother, so maybe they should have gone with “How My Parents Met Each Other”. It was originally developed in 2018 for CBS as a co-production between Sony Pictures Television and CBS Studios. Following the screening, there was a discussion of the pilot moderated by Yvonne Villarreal of The Los Angeles Times. The panelists included creator/writer/executive producer Gloria Calderón Kellett, director Pam Fryman, and stars Brett Dier, Ana Villafañe, Caitlin McGee, Chris Powell, Amit Shah & Felix Solis.
The cast was excited to see the pilot again. Creator Gloria Calderón Kellett talked about how the series was inspired by her own love story, and how the cast still stays in touch. Director Pam Fryman talked about working with Calderón on How I Met Your Mother and how it led to working on this, which was one of four pilots she directed that pilot season. The panelists also talked about the set (and showed off some photos/mockups), the diverse cast, filming in front of a live audience, how much had been planned out of the series, the grieving process when a show doesn’t get picked up, and more.
The Good Fight: Screening and Q&A
Paramount+ gave attendees an early screening of the season five premiere of The Good Fight (which returns June 24), followed by a conversation with the creators and cast, moderated by NPR’s Eric Deggans. The panelists included co-creators/showrunners/executive producers Robert & Michelle King, and stars Christine Baranski (“Diane Lockhart”), Audra McDonald (“Liz Reddick”), Charmaine Bingwa (“Carmen Moyo”) & Mandy Patinkin (“Hal Wackner”).
They Kings started off talking about Memo 618 (which was named for their daughter’s birthday). Then they discussed how before they could start with any new story, they wanted to show what these characters lived through in the past year, which is all done in the first episode of the season. They had fun playing with the “Previously On” TV trope, with the main title coming after 50 minutes. The Kings also talked about how they decided to wrap up the characters of Adrian and Lucca, and how Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo agreed to come back for one episode to finish their stories.
The actors and the Kings talked about the new season. One of the main storylines will follow Diane being challenged as a white partner in a Black firm. There are still two episodes left to write for the season and the Kings said they still don’t know how they will resolve this. Liz has to step into more of a leadership position this season, torn between a firm led by women, and the idea that it could be dominated by someone who is white.
Two of the panelists were new to the show this season. Mandy Patinkin didn’t want to talk about his character and give away any spoilers, but he plays Hal Wackner, a judge in 9 3/4 court. Patinkin said he’s just enjoying working with Christine again, and also praised the Kings for hiring so many out of work Broadway actors and crew. Australian actor Charmaine Bingwa plays Carmen Moyo, a young lawyer from a tough part of town, who doesn’t have the ivy league education. She grew up near people who were oppressed by the system, so she uses her street smarts to make the system work for her. “She’s playing chess while everyone else around her are playing checkers.” Patinkin begged the Kings to do a scene with Bingwa.
The moderator asked how the story of George Floyd has affected their stories and the industry in general. The Kings said they likely wouldn’t have had this storyline between Liz and Diane struggling with the firm had that not happened, but the long-term industry effects may not be seen for 2 years. Among the other things the panelists discussed was how their production changed due to COVID restrictions.
Day Passes for Season 10 are still available. To learn more, visit atxfestival.com/attend.