ATX Television Fest Brings Small-Screen Stars to Austin
There are at least three things every Texan knows about Austin. 1) It's the state capitol. 2) It calls itself the live music capitol of the world. And 3) It seems like there's a festival nearly every weekend.
One of those festivals is all about television – a segment of the entertainment industry that used to have a Rodney Dangerfield complex – it "never gets no respect."
But as the Texas Standard's Laura Rice found out at this year's ATX Fest, the real story here is how much that's changed.
About half a dozen 30-somethings stand in line outside of Austin’s small downtown theater, The State. It’s noon, and they’re casually waiting for an awards presentation that doesn’t start for another hour and a half.
But Linda Helmsin says that’s just what you have to do now at ATX Fest.
“This year’s been kind of a little bit tough,” she says. “I haven’t gotten into all of the panels this year – it’s gotten a lot bigger.”
Helmsin has been attending the festival since it started four years ago. But it’s Nicole Grimes’ first year here, and she came for what is obviously this year’s big draw: a reunion of actors from the television show The Gilmore Girls.
“Gilmore Girls – came for the Gilmore Girls reunion," Grimes says. Her husband bought her tickets. "I joked about it last summer on Facebook, and he was the best husband ever and bought the tickets."
But the larger reason for the festival’s growth is that TV isn’t just for couch potatoes anymore. It’s now an important artistic medium, thanks to shows like Fargo, True Detective and Game of Thrones.
Other shows at ATX Fest – like The Simpsons, which has been around forever – don’t quite fit that category. But they’re riding the wave anyway. Al Jean, longtime executive producer for the show, says that the show not changing hindered its longevity.
“We’re a little bit like an ocean liner, where we just kind of move through and don’t change our basic way of doing things too much. People have asked me, ‘Are you going to do arcs? Are you going to have a mid-season finale?’ And I go, ‘But why?’ We haven’t done that before, and it would start looking very odd,” Jean says. “You know, the episodes are pretty interchangeable, even from Season 20 to Season 3, so I don’t think we’ll do anything very much differently, but I guess it’s good to be part of a new 'Golden Age'… yeah, why not?”
This new "Golden Age of TV" also means channels are hungry for programming that might not have gotten a shot five years ago.
“Drunk History is a show where we take real stories that have happened in history that we feel more people need to know about and find someone who is knowledgeable in that story – and having a couple of drinks – and then we get famous actors to reenact whatever the narrator said word-for-word,” says Derek Waters, the series' creator.
It’s in its third season on Comedy Central – but has gotten new fans in TV’s other outlet these days: on-demand streaming.
“There’s more outlets for small stories that should be seen, and now more people can see them, and I think TV is better than it’s ever been,” he says. “I mean, not what’s actually on the TV all the time, but what’s being made in hopes of being on TV.”
But more than just talking about TV’s resurgence, the ATX Fest is all about watching it and learning more about favorite shows — like the fact that the Springfield where the Simpsons live is not Springfield, Texas.
“When ‘King of the Hill’ aired, you could say Springfield isn’t Texas, because that was clearly Texas, so it was a little different,” Jean says.
Although Jean says there is an overtly Texas-inspired character.
“The Rich Texan, yes, the LBJ-style of like, 'Texas is all hat, and no cattle, and too big, and all that.'”
And there’s even a treat for Texans – and NPR fans – in the upcoming season, but I won’t spoil it for you. And Drunk History has already remembered the Alamo: Derek Waters says you can find that episode in Season 1.
“A lot of people knew the name Alamo, but they don’t really remember why we shouldn’t forget it. Santa Ana was there, and all those good guys. Well, he wasn’t a good guy, but you know what I mean," Waters says.
ATX Fest also featured the cast of Girl Meets World and Texan Robert Rodriguez’s show From Dusk Till Dawn.