The ATX Television Festival canceled a scheduled panel discussion of violence on Sunday because of the mass killings in Orlando, Fla.
The session, titled Viewer Discretion Advised, was described as dealing with the violence show in various series and how appropriate it might be to tell a story.
The announcement came via Twitter and Facebook, from festival co-founders Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland. They said, “Out of respect for victims of the tragedy in Orlando last night, we won’t be holding the Viewer Discretion Advised panel today. While it is a very important conversation to have, today does not feel like the the time to have it. Viewer Discretion Advised panel is cancelled.”
The panelists who were scheduled to appear were Austin’s Noah Hawley, the showrunner for “Fargo”; Kurt Sutter (“Sons of Anarchy”), Jack Amiel (“The Knick”), Brian Michael Bendis (“Powers”) and Universal TV VP of drama Stacey Silverman.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Austin’s Noah Hawley, who has a new thriller titled “Before the Fall,” sat down with Beau Willimon, the creator of TV’s “House of Cards,” on Friday to discuss Hawley’s new book at the ATX Television Festival. Hawley, who’s also the showrunner for the FX series “Fargo,” had a few choice words about doing double duty as a novelist and TV creator. Here are five highlights from the session.
1. Hawley says he has resisted restricting himself to one medium, like television, because of a simple fact: “If you do just one thing, then that thing owns you.” So he splits his time pursuing various passions, like writing movies, writing teleplays and writing novels.
2. Since he’s the showrunner, he also has a few tips on how to manage up, i.e., how to handle studio or corporate executives, especially when you’re trying to create art for a corporation, which is a bit subversive in itself. A notable piece of advice: Ask yourself: “How do I get what I want while making them think it’s what they want?”
3. Hawley, who’s a father of two, says he sees stories as an “empathy delivery device” for his kids. That’s why he thinks it’s important to tell stories to kids — especially stories that feature people “who aren’t like you.”
4. He always stresses characters when writing TV shows and novels. “If you can solve the characters, you can solve the mystery” of a novel or show, he says.
5. He’s intrigued by characters who have great power or wealth – and especially how they act. “The quality of a person is what they do with their power,” he says. “You can use it punch people down or lift them up.” And there’s a particular character in “Before the Fall” who pushes people down. He’s a TV commentator for a right-wing network.
If you’re interested in buying a signed copy of “Before the Fall,” the book is available at Trinity Hall, 311 E. 5th St., throughout the festival, which runs through the weekend.