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TV fest fosters new talent

Indie producer Gray launches six-day tube event

NEW YORK — While indie film has events like Sundance to tout grassroots talent, there’s been no such venue for emerging voices hoping to break into the television biz.

Independent producer Terence Gray is looking to change things on that front by throwing an indie TV festival in September in Gotham. Linchpin of the event will be an festival competition showcasing 30-40 rough pilots.

The New York Television Festival, set to run Sept. 28-Oct. 3, is drawing the attention of key industry players, along with assistance from the William Morris Agency and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater & Broadcasting.

Writers, directors and producers will be selected via national and international searches and given a chance to pitch originally produced pilots to broadcast and cable execs.

Festival organizers say inexpensive digital cameras make it possible for someone to produce a pilot without traditional financial backing. Even if a pilot isn’t necessarily ready for air, TV execs would at least get the framework of the idea.

Festival also will feature panel discussions and screenings of classic TV shows.

“Television is in the middle of a transition,” said Gray, who is exec director of the New York Television Festival. “This occurred more than a decade ago with film, when independent pictures become more popular. Festivals like Sundance were instrumental in cultivating that new market.”

Members of the festival’s board include NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly; Comedy Central prexy Doug Herzog; ABC exec VP of alternative programming, specials and latenight Andrea Wong; ESPN exec VP of programming and production Mark Shapiro; and Variety Group president and Variety/Daily Variety publisher Charlie Koones.

Other board members are WMA East Coast head of TV Cara Stein; Creative Artists Agency head of television packaging Adam Berkowitz; Gotham film commissioner Katherine Oliver; “Wife Swap” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” exec producer Michael Davis; “The Office” (U.S.) and “The Restaurant” exec producer Ben Silverman; Deutsch chairman-CEO Donny Deutsch; Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz entertainment and sports group co-chair Richard Hofstetter; and Syracuse U. Center for the Study of Popular TV director Robert Thompson.

The festival’s goal is to pioneer the independent TV movement and cut a new path for program development, Gray said.

He’s also looking for some of the glitz that accompanies film festivals and hopes to host red-carpet premieres for fall shows.

“A lot of stuff on TV isn’t working,” says WMA senior VP Jon Rosen, the agency’s point man on the festival. “But it’s difficult to get into cable or broadcast if you have never done anything before.

“Top television execs are serious about the state of development and are looking now more than ever for creative ways to find new talent.”

Gray and Rosen said they would like to see the final pool include both amateurs and professionals, such as a thesp who has an idea for a show that otherwise wouldn’t get an airing.

Beginning Thursday, festival organizers will launch a tour of top communications schools, beginning with Syracuse. There will be separate events in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston detailing the festival competition.

In the festival’s first year, only pilots will be accepted, not pitches or scripts. There will be five categories: drama, comedy, reality, documentary and animation.

Festival is still firming up sponsorship deals.

Submissions are being accepted at www.newyorktelevisionfestival.com

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