The second annual New York Television Festival (www.nytvf.com), a six-day celebration of all things television, takes place this week in Manhattan. Styled after the Sundance Film Festival, it's a showcase for both unproved independent talent and big-budget network premieres. There are a host of panel discussions on everything from finding an agent to the depiction of the American family on television, featuring the likes of Dan Rather, Ben Silverman of production company Reveille (The Office, The Biggest Loser) and Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal. The festival also celebrates New York's growing role in television production. Executive director Terence Gray, who's produced projects for ESPN, NBC and VH1, spoke to B&C's Michael Malone about the festival's goals.
Why a TV festival?
Part of its genesis came out of the success of Sundance in terms of the independent film movement. Sundance introduced a myriad of very talented artists that got a platform and got access to executives. In the process, it really increased the [output of] artistic storytelling and great movies. A television festival is similar in that, for the first time, it gives a voice and a platform to independent artists who are looking to get their start in television. I think it will infuse television with the same creativity and energy that artists did 15 years ago in film.
What came out of last year's festival—what got sold, what got the buzz?
We had three independent pilots that premiered and got picked up for development or distribution. The pilot that won Best Reality Pilot and the Audience Award is called Off the Hook, and we're premiering it for OLN [soon to be Versus] on Wednesday. It's a New York show, starring these four Brooklynites who just love to fish. They go to these exotic locales and just sort of take over the town. We also had a show in the comedy category called Criss-Cross that was developed by an independent New York producer and was bought by A&E. They shot a pilot this summer called I Never Said That, and it's waiting for pickup.
The winner for Best Animated Pilot was called The Back Brace. It's a brother and sister animation team that basically goes around their studio in Harlem and finds art. It got picked up by a French film distribution company and they're showing it in Europe.
What about this year's show are you most excited about?
Our network partners. We're opening the festival with a premiere of NBC's Kidnapped with all the cast members in attendance. That will be followed by the opening-night gala, which will be held in conjunction with the mayor's office and the Made in New York initiative, The William Morris Agency, NBC and Sony. That's a big thing for us.
On Thursday night, we are premiering Knights of Prosperity, ABC's new sitcom that's created by Rob Burnett. All the cast members will be there. Chris Cuomo from Good Morning America will be doing the talkback with the producers and the cast, allowing TV fans to come in and see these shows prior to them going on the air and really getting to interact with the cast and creators.
And on Sunday night, we are doing a premiere episode of Fox's Standoff, with [stars] Ron Livingston and Rosemarie DeWitt doing a talkback.
We have two missions: one is to find the next new show coming from the independent television scene, and the second part is, we really like celebrating great television that is being done in New York City.
And we're doing a very special panel about how the American family is depicted on television, with [Arrested Development creator] Mitch Hurwitz, [Raymond creator] Phil Rosenthal and [Simpsons e.p.] Mike Scully.
How does digital delivery figure into the festival?
We have a panel discussion series on the rooftop of the Hudson Hotel, and one of them is geared toward emerging platforms like mobisodes and the Internet. It will be a discussion about branded entertainment and alternative ways of presenting and packaging content, be it broadband, through the cellphone, or any of these new technologies.
How are you marketing the festival?
We have a great partnership with MSN, so we have our channel on MSN.com. We have a community of over 2,000 artists, and are working diligently with all of our network partners, agency partners and sponsors.