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SXSW Solidifies TV Boom on Festival Circuit

This year’s SXSW festival, which wrapped up this past weekend in Austin, served as a launching pad for a number of high-profile TV series, including Showtime’s “I’m Dying Up Here,” AMC’s “The Son,” Starz’s “American Gods” and Netflix’s “Dear White People.”

The annual Texas fest — which is largely known for specializing in music and tech — marks the latest major festival to see an increase in television programming.

“It’s a very, very buzzy place and there’s a reason we keep going back,” says Don Buckley, Showtime’s EVP of program marketing and digital services, who brought two of the cabler’s major properties to SXSW this month: the drama “I’m Dying Up Here,” which hails from executive producer Jim Carrey, and the hotly anticipated revival of “Twin Peaks.”

Buckley says that launching a show at SXSW gives new series a leg-up over the competition.

“The buzz-factor at SXSW just continues to increase,” he says. “We think we have something here with ‘I’m Dying Up Here,’ and it’s the proper launch pad.”

Over the past few years, as film festivals like SXSW, Sundance and Tribeca have been including more and more TV programming, the events have become tougher for networks to enter, especially in the era of Peak TV. “It feels like it’s gotten more competitive,” Buckley notes, recalling a few years ago when Showtime first brought “Penny Dreadful” to Austin. “I’ve seen the list of other shows present, and it seems like a greater number than in the past.” Being included can set a show apart, he says. “That was validation for us,” he says of “I’m Dying Up Here.” “Not everybody can just show up.”

Showtime — which hosted the premiere screening of “I’m Dying Up Here,” along with a party for the series at the Showtime House, plus a “Twin Peaks” inspired pop-up Double R Diner and live music with star Kyle MacLachlan at SXSW — was just one of several networks that headed south.

Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, Ian McShane, Emily Browning and Ricky Whittle at the Lionsgate Lounge “American Gods” panel.

Other premieres included Netflix’s “Dear White People,” TV Land’s Melissa McCarthy-produced comedy “Nobodies” and Starz’s “American Gods,” which had the most prominent activation at SXSW with a 23-foot tall buffalo.

AMC featured the world premiere of Pierce Brosnan’s “The Son,” a panel discussion with Seth Rogen for “Preacher,” a mechanical bull activation for SundanceTV’s “Hap and Leonard” and a Los Pollos Hermanos pop-up restaurant for “Better Call Saul,” whose star Bob Odenkirk also sat for a conversation at the Austin Convention Center.

The convention center also hosted a sit-down with Noah Hawley, who discussed his FX shows “Legion” and Fargo.”

HBO brought the entire cast of “Veep,” plus the “Game of Thrones” showrunners who engaged in a panel conversation, moderated by stars Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner. The pay-cabler also screened an episode of their animated series “Animals,” and had an Escape Room in Austin, as did Fox’s “Prison Break.”

Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner at the “Game of Thrones” panel.

Web series “I Love Bekka and Lucy” screened at SXSW, and Amazon had a number of activation sites for shows such as “Man In the High Castle,” “Patriot” and the upcoming docuseries “American Playboy.”

Of course, SXSW still plays hosts to more film than TV, but there’s no doubt that the festival world has adapted to the content world, which is putting out roughly 500 scripted series this year. Aside from TV-centric festivals like Austin’s ATX Television Festival in the summer, SeriesFest in Denver and NYTVF, which will have its first-ever Chicago-based event next month in addition to it flagship NYC event in the fall, this year’s Sundance Film Festival also saw more small-screen programming than ever before. At the Park City event, Jill Soloway, who was on hand to promote her Amazon series “I Love Dick,” told Variety, “Sundance [used to] mean independent film and artistry, and now that has moved over to television because of Amazon and Netflix reinventing the way people make television.”

Buckley agrees. “I think quite by design, the people who run SXSW are encouraging the blurring of the lines, and there’s this greater overlap and intersection.”

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