ATX TV Fest: will festive ‘Ugly Betty’ reunion lead to Hulu movie? (#HuluBringBackUglyBetty)

uglybetty1
The “Ugly Betty” reunion panel featured, from left to right, moderator Jessica Shaw, show creator Silvio Horta and cast members Tony Plana, Mark Indelicato, Ana Ortiz, America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Ashley Jensen, Judith Light, Rebecca Romijn, Vanessa Williams and Michael Urie. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


One year ago, a well-received “Gilmore Girls” cast-and-creator reunion at the ATX Television Festival led to an upcoming continuation of the series on Netflix. Will it work for “Ugly Betty?”

A Saturday-night reunion panel at the Paramount Theatre brought back 10 cast members and showrunner Silvio Horta from the ABC telenovela adaptation, which began in 2006 and ran for four seasons.

Before the end of the panel, actress America Ferrera, who played Betty Suarez on the show, was coming up with hashtags for fans to prod Hulu, the streaming service that currently offers all episodes of the show to revive the series as a two-hour movie.

Since the panel came together so quickly — it apparently only took an email to Ferrera to her fellow cast member and 20 minutes to get them to all agree to come to Austin — she said the panel itself was the negotiation that would lead to the revival. “This is the talk!’ she exclaimed, before settling on “#HuluBringBackUglyBetty” as the hashtag fans should use.

uglybetty4
Vanessa Williams and Judith Light answer questions on the red carpet before the “Ugly Betty” reunion at ATX Television Festival. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The reunion, moderated by Entertainment Weekly Radio’s Jessica Shaw, made it clear the cast members and Horta miss the show and still get along famously as an extended family unit. The reunion also featured actors Judith Light, Vanessa Williams, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Ashley Jensen, Eric Mabius and Rebecca Romijn. Of the primary cast, only Becki Newton was missing; she had to bow out due to illness.

Through its four seasons, “Ugly Betty” was known for several important TV landmarks; among them, featuring a loving Latino family at its center, introducing TVs first trans character (played by Romijn), and for its careful handling of two coming-out storylines, including one involving Indelicato’s character Justin, who was only 12 when the show started.

Cast members said they went into a depression after the show ended. Plana likened it to a plane crash, while Ferrera said, “It was like losing a family.”

Ferrera described how her involvement in the show began with a conversation with producer Salma Hayek at a Los Angeles hotel while Horta described going from a series about a secret agent to something more direct about a young woman who is perceived as unattractive, but, “She turns every one else beautiful from the inside out.”

Much time was spent on the show’s outrageous, but always on-point fashion sense, with much praise going to ace designer Pat Field, on its roster of guest stars including a then-unknown Adele, Patti Lupone and Octavia Spencer, and what the actors and Horta think the characters might be doing now.

Ferrera pitched her idea for where the show could pick up, something she says she had been thinking about seriously: “It’s been six or seven years, depending on when Hulu launches this. Betty has been in London the whole time and is coming home.”

The actress, who was also at the fest promoting her current NBC sitcom “Superstore,” sounded very serious. Don’t be surprised if Hulu takes the hint.

(Further reading: Entertainment Weekly, which owns the festival, did a live blog of the event.)

 

uglybetty3
The “Ugly Betty” reunion panel featured, from left to right, moderator Jessica Shaw, show creator Silvio Horta and cast members Tony Plana, Mark Indelicato, Ana Ortiz and America Ferrera. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

 

uglybetty2
The “Ugly Betty” reunion panel featured, from left to right, actors Eric Mabius, Ashley Jensen, Judith Light, Rebecca Romijn, Vanessa Williams and Michael Urie. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Update: Entertainment Weekly has the full panel available. You can watch it below:

ATX TV Fest: how HBO’s ‘Oz’ and ‘The Wire’ changed the game with David Simon and Tom Fontana

"House of Cards" showrunner Beau Willimon moderates a panel with "The Wire" creator David Simon (center) and "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Oz" creator Tom Fontana. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
“House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon moderates a panel with “The Wire” creator David Simon (center) and “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Oz” creator Tom Fontana. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Three showrunners of some of the most influential TV dramas of the so-called golden age of TV shared the stage at the ATX Television Festival Saturday morning at Google Fiber Space, describing the birth of HBO’s original dramas, what it was like to create iconic shows such as “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” and why despicable characters still make for great TV.

“House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon moderated the panel which featured “The Wire” creator David Simon and Tom Fontana, who mentored Simon through his transition from newspaper crime reporter to TV writer and show creator. Fontana originated “Homicide” as well as “Oz” for HBO, the network’s first drama in a streak that would continue with “The Sopranos” all the way up to its current behemoth “Game of Thrones.”

For fans unaware of how Simon went from crime reporter to author to TV auteur, it was a good opportunity to get up to speed on how the shows are connected. Simon’s book “Homicide: Life on the Street” let to the NBC TV show run by Fontana. Simon declined to write the pilot episode (“Do you take me for a fool?” he told the network) but eventually came onto the show in its fourth season, writing an award-winning script with David Mills that guest starred Robin Williams.

Fontana said that he initially had no interest in doing a cop show, but that in order to do something like a hospital or police drama, “You really have to blow them up for a new audience,” especially with such easy access to streaming TV today. (Ironically, “Homicide” is a show that’s been difficult to find.)

Fontana went on to create what was up to that point an unsellable prison drama that would become “Oz.” HBO’s then-chief Chris Albrecht bought 13 episodes after seeing a 15-minute test version that, Fontana revealed laughingly, was partly shot with equipment used on “Homicide. “I ended up using NBC’s money,” he laughed. “Oz” turned out to be a gamechanger for Fontana, who found the biggest dramatic change was not having to deal with commercial breaks.

Eventually the panel got to “The Wire,” Simon’s seminal Baltimore drama about why institutions fail us, which followed a six-episode miniseries, “The Corner.” He says that “The Wire” was more influenced by “Oz,” than “The Sopranos,” which had not yet aired when he began working on it.

“The Wire” was never a hit on HBO; is had perpetual low ratings that dipped in the third season, but was kept on the air, subsidized by the success of “Sopranos” and other shows including “Sex and the City.” Willimon described it as “The Velvet Underground of TV,” a series that only caught on long after it had concluded.

Simon and Fontana said that the anything-goes ethos of HBO quickly went away after their biggest hits. “Success breeds fear as much as failure does,” Fontana said, with the network trying to replicate the “Sopranos” formula with diminishing returns. (At least until “Game of Thrones.” About Simon’s excellent, little-watched miniseries about housing segregation “Show Me A Hero” from last year, Fontana joked, “I told him to put a dragon in it, but he didn’t listen.”)

During a brief Q&A Willimon described his characters on “House of Cards” as despicable characters you somehow still root for and that are very fun to write, while Simon addressed a question about which death was hardest emotionally to write. “Wallace’s death on ‘The Wire,’ was the most upsetting,” he said, referring to Michael B. Jordan’s character. “He was beloved by the crew. Grips were saying, ‘You can’t kill Wallace. What kind of asshole kills Wallace?’ ”

Simon noted that the star of “Creed” has gone on to have a pretty great career despite it.

ATX TV Fest: fans turns out for big ‘Friday Night Lights’ tailgate and screening

Actor Scott Porter poses with fans at an ATX Television Festival event celebrating "Friday Night LIghts."
Actor Scott Porter poses with fans at an ATX Television Festival event celebrating “Friday Night LIghts.”

Fans of “Friday Night Lights” got Texas heat, Texas stars and a big dose of Texas love with the ATX Television Festival’s tailgate party, pep rally and screening of the show. The event, which was open to non-badgeholders of the festival, attracted stars of the show Connie Britton, Adrianne Palicki, Scott Porter, Gaius Charles, Jesse Plemmons, Brad Leland and many others, who all took to the stage together escorted by Del Valle high school football players for a brief Q&A before a screening of one of the show’s best episodes.

“We really knew we couldn’t ask them to come every year of the festival,” said festival co-founder Emily Gipson on stage. “Five years they’ve been doing this, five years since the show ended, 10 years since the show started, let’s just blow this out.”


Want to see photos from the Tailgate party? Find our A-list photo gallery here.


The organizers chose Del Valle field, which was unused and overgrown, and transformed it into Panther Field for the event, which included a tour through the field house (gotta tap that Panthers P for good luck!), food trucks, selfies with some cast members and a screening of “The Son,” the wrenching, Emmy-nominated fifth-season episode about QB1 Matt Saracen coming to grips with very bad news about his dad.

On stage, cast members were asked a few questions about what props they took home when the show ended (Britton took a Tami Taylor parking marker home and still uses it at her house, she revealed) and what cast member/character they each have a crush on. Some answers were disturbing (not cool to say “Lyla Garrity,” Brad Leland!), but the vote was overwhelmingly for Britton, whose subsequent show “Nashville” has just escaped cancellation and will continue on CMT with the actress. A few of the lead actors missing from the event included Kyle Chandler, Michael B. Jordan, Minka Kelly and Taylor Kitsch, but the show’s deep bench of characters filled out the stage, drawing huge cheers for actors including Louanne Stephens, who played Grandma Saracen; she also got into the act dancing on stage during a music set by Crucifictorious. That was led by a bearded Plemmons, who has gone on star in acclaimed shows including “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo.” He acquitted himself well through several songs and in their closer, “She Don’t Use Jelly” by The Flaming Lips.

The TV Fest continues through the weekend with “West Wing” and “Ugly Betty” reunions on the schedule for Saturday.

Some previous coverage:

Reunion announced.

“Statesman Shots” with guest Taylor Kitsch.

 

 

Austin (hearts) ‘Gilmore Girls’ ATX TV Fest reunion

A large portion of the cast from the TV series "Gilmore Girls" were part of a reunion panel Saturday night as part of the ATX Television Festival on June 7. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A large portion of the cast from the TV series “Gilmore Girls” were part of a reunion panel Saturday night as part of the ATX Television Festival on June 7. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

For one Saturday night only, the Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin became the warm, fictional town of Stars Hollow as rabid fans of the departed WB series “Gilmore Girls” saw a rare reunion of the show’s cast and its creator.

The series, which ran from 2000-2007, was never a gigantic ratings hit or an Emmy award contender, but its stature in the TV industry has grown since it left the air as Netflix, DVDs sales and syndication have given it more waves of attention and new generations of viewers.

Saturday night’s reunion, which was the most high-profile event of the fourth-annual ATX Television Festival, drew a sold-out crowd to the venue and a flurry of activity on social media as fans of the show awaited word — any word — that “Gilmore Girls” might return as a new set of TV episodes (Netflix!?) or a movie. Crazier things have happened. “Full House” and “Twin Peaks” are both returning with new episodes in the near future.

Alas, show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who left the series before its controversial (and frankly not that great) final season, did not have any news to break at the reunion, which included stars Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop, Scott Patterson and 12 others.

“There’s nothing in the works at the moment,” Sherman-Palladino said, although she left the door open by saying that everyone on stage gets along great and would probably be open to a return to the show’s Stars Hollow setting. (That said, it didn’t sound like there was any kind of script being written and if a deal is being worked on, it wasn’t mentioned.) “If it ever happened, I promise we’d do it correctly,” Sherman-Palladino added.

Apart from pining for new content, fans seemed most interested in hearing about the relationships between the characters on the show, what they might be doing today (Miss Patty would be mayor, Luke would be running a bait and tackle shop, Lane Kim would be trying to be more of a Lorelai mom than a Mrs. Kim mom) and what some of their favorite moments on the show were. The show’s stars and creators received a warm tongue bath of attention with fans cheering about lines from 10 years ago that even the actors didn’t remembers and greeting the cast as if they were long-lost family members just returned after an extended departure.

Three stars conspicuously missing from the event: Melissa McCarthy, who has become a huge comedy star and who was not mentioned; Sean Gunn, who is filming a movie overseas and couldn’t make it; and, most notably, Edward Herrmann, who played Rory’s grandfather Richard Gilmore on the show.

Herrmann died on Dec. 31, 2014 and his absence was marked with an empty chair on stage, a beautifully put-together video collection of some of his “Gilmore Girls” work and the revelation from Sherman-Palladino that he was the first of the stars to agree to do the reunion.

“(Expletive) him for dying,” she said, in the nicest, most heartfelt way possible.

The reunion was preceded by a sweaty red carpet in the Texas heat and an after party at Cedar Door where cast members took photos with fans, signed autographs and caught up on new projects.

The large cast of townies from “Gilmore Girls” have gone on to success on many other TV shows including “Parenthood,” “Mad Men,” “Supernatural,” “Empire” and “Justified.”

Sherman-Palladino went on to create “Bunheads,” a beloved, but short-lived show on ABC Family that was also honored with a screening at the festival.

If there were hard feelings about the way the show ended, Sherman-Palladino deflected them with her trademark wit. She said when the show ended, she spent the night yelling at her husband Dan (who co-created and worked on the show) and when asked about statements she’s made about how she would have ended the show, she declined to reveal the four words she’s said would have been said.

Instead, she warmly remembered how great an experience the show had been and how much she enjoyed its cast.

“God, I got so lucky,” she said.

(Left to right) Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of "Gilmore Girl" and cast members Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop appear at the Paramount Theatre as part of an ATX Television Festival reunion of the show. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
(Left to right) Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “Gilmore Girls” and cast members Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Kelly Bishop appear at the Paramount Theatre as part of an ATX Television Festival reunion of the show. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

TV drama showrunners at ATX TV Fest agree: make a good show first

(Left to right)
(Left to right) Noah Hawley (“Fargo”), Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”), Mickey Fisher (“Extant”), Graeme Manson (“Orphan Black”) and panel moderator Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter.

If it feels like your favorite on-hiatus TV drama is taking forever to return for a new season, it’s not because the creator/showrunners are wasting time, that’s for sure.

That was the key takeaway from a Saturday afternoon panel, “UnSeasonably: A Look at Breaking the Traditional TV Season,” at the ATX Television Festival featuring showrunners from FX’s “Fargo” (Noah Hawley), “House of Cards” (Beau Willimon), CBS’s “Extant” (Mickey Fisher) and BBC America’s “Orphan Black” (Graeme Manson).

The panel, moderated by Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman, got off to an unfortunate start when he noted the panel was “Very diverse” (in terms of network outlets), a strange thing to say on a stage where five white men were holding court.

Nevertheless, the panel got back on track on issues such as how writer/creators maintain quality on their respective shows, how they keep audiences interested in the long breaks between seasons (for “Fargo,” for instance, fans will have waited about 18 months before the second season premiere) and whether extra web-only content is worth the hassle.

All seemed concerned about the glut of quality shows and the limited time their audiences have to enjoy all the great shows available (“We’re gonna need a bigger DVR, right?” Hawley said), but insisted that the best use of their time is not social media or extra content but focusing on making their shows stand out in the crowd.

“(Fans) will crawl over broken glass to watch something they love on this age,” Hawley said.

Willimon of “House of Cards” said that TV fans are hoping for instant gratification with their favorite TV shows, but that no matter how you do it, it still takes about a year to put together a quality season of television, though the formats are breaking down to allow for non-traditional TV seasons with varying episode lengths.

They all agreed that good shows can still follow the lead of “Breaking Bad” by being discovered by fans into their second or third season with online streaming and word of mouth.

But the challenge of making a great show consistently is so great that the thought of making extra content is worrisome, especially for dramas (which aren’t as viral online as short-form TV comedy). Manson said that a new “Orphan Black” comic has been a tough challenge because it requires extra attention and is always in danger of stepping on the show’s toes.

It’s a similar challenge when it comes to marketing — Willimon handles a lot of “House of Cards” marketing tasks himself (such as writing the Netflix episode descriptions), but ultimately, the most attention must be paid on the show itself.

“You don’t want to put anything out that’s not as good as the show itself,” he said. “And you want to focus on the main course.”

‘Friends,’ ‘Grace and Frankie’ co-creator Marta Kauffman brings laughs at ATX TV Fest

"Friends" co-creator and showrunner of Netflix's "Grace and Frankie" speaks with "Nerdist Writers Panel" co-host Ben Blacker on Friday, June 5 at the ATX Television Festival. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
“Friends” co-creator and showrunner of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” speaks with “Nerdist Writers Panel” co-host Ben Blacker on Friday, June 5 at the ATX Television Festival. Credit: Omar L. Gallaga / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The ATX Television Festival started its first full day of 2015 programming on Friday with a few packed panels (if you arrived late, you likely didn’t get in to see “Bunheads” or “Brooklyn 99” panels) and a well-received screening of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” with co-creator Marta Kauffman.

Kauffman, who is known for her work on HBO’s “Dream On” and most notably as the co-creator of “Friends,” discussed how the show, which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, came together and how working for Netflix has been different from doing network television.

Most notably, she said, the lack of format restrictions on Netflix have allowed her new show — about two women whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson), late in life, have fallen in love with each other and left them.

The entire 13-episode first season of the show is already on Netflix, but the pilot appeared to be new to a lot of the audience, who gave the comedy its laughs, if not riotous applause when it concluded.

Kauffman said that the show came about when she was told that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were both interested in doing a television show and when she assumed they were talking about doing one together. 20 minutes after floating that idea, she said, they both signed on.

It was not a tough sell to Netflix, she said, based on its two stars. “Who doesn’t want Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin on their network?” she said.

The biggest advantage of Netflix, she said, is storytelling time. “On a network, you don’t get 30 minutes. You get 20 minutes. You can’t tell a deep story that way; you can only tell the jokes,” she said. “You can do different kinds of jokes on a single-camera show (on a network), but it’s still not gonna dig deep.”

She offered a few juicy tidbits about her new show, such as working realities; Lily Tomlin will overthink jokes if she’s given too much time and gets tired after 8 hours of work, while Martin Sheen typically insists on having the last line in any scene he’s in.

Kauffman also talked about her time on “Friends,” including an ongoing misogyny issue with an NBC network president, and what she learned about herself as a TV writer. Kauffman said what she brings to the table (apart from “food,” she joked) is humanity, warmth and heart. She said that TV characters “don’t have to be lovable but they have to be people you let into your home, You have to want them there… I bring that tone.”

Before the panel, fest co-founder Caitlin McFarland apologized for some growing pains the festival is experiencing with long lines and fast pass problems, which caused many to stand in lines outside venues in the heat. She said the fest is looking for feedback to make improvements as it keeps growing.

‘Daily Show’ arrives in Austin with plenty of ebola jokes

"The Daily Show" in Austin
“Daily Show” host Jon Stewart interviews gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis on Monday at Zach Theatre as part of a week of shows taped in Austin. Photo by Ralph Barrera / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” landed in Austin on Monday and it was a raucous, high-energy affair. You can read our story about the first episode taping, featuring guest Wendy Davis, in this MyStatesman story. (No subscription required.)

Here’s an excerpt:

The show began with a well-received takeoff of the “Dallas” opening credits, with correspondents from the show and Stewart mixed in with locals including actor Elijah Wood, the Old 97’s, Robert Rodriguez, Shooter Jennings and Aaron Franklin. It ended with Stewart downing a large can of chili in a state where “a guitar can marry cowboy boots.”

It moved on to two segments about Ebola panic in Texas and New York City, with “Daily Show” correspondents Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, Aasif Mandvi and Jordan Klepper green-screened into locations such as Dallas, Times Square and the front of an Austin Java location before all four joined together to eat meat off a “traditional barbecue lei.”

You can also find a photo gallery right here.