Tribeca TV Festival Preview: How ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Better Things’ and More Made the Cut

Will Grace Ten Days in the
Courtesy of ABC/NBC/Amazon Studios

After two years of programming television content into the Tribeca Film Festival, the brand is expanding. This year, a standalone TV festival will debut during the closest thing the modern day landscape has to fall premiere week, Sept. 22-24, 2017. With now more than 450 scripted shows alone on TV, programming director Cara Cusumano says now felt like the perfect time to move forward with a TV-centric event.

“As we worked with the same networks curating the spring festival the last two years, we were hearing from them that this was such a valuable experience for them and they wished there were more opportunities like it,” Cusumano tells Variety. “This festival is almost a response to that. The audience was hungry for it, and we’ve surpassed what any single, dedicated fan can watch in a year, so we felt like that’s when a curator really becomes a valuable player in the ecosystem.”

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Curating content is what Cusumano feels is most essential to the Tribeca brand. This year’s inaugural TV Festival will see a variety of programs from broadcast, cable, and streaming networks, selected to represent all of the ways in which the modern viewer watches television along with programming and filmmakers about those who work for the company are passionate. These shows range from fan favorites like the return of “Will & Grace” on NBC, to series premieres for ABC’s “Ten Days in the Valley” and SundanceTV’s “Liar,” to more niche shows Cusumano hopes to introduce to a new audience, like FX’s “Better Things” and Amazon’s “Red Oaks.”

“Discovery is really very much part of our DNA at the festival, so we wanted a balance of programming,” Cusumano says. “We wanted shows that fans were watching at home but could come and watch with other like-minded people, but then we also wanted things that they could discover together. We also wanted to point people into the future and show off shows maybe they haven’t heard of or tried out yet.”

Though the Tribeca Film Festival takes place over an almost two-week period, the TV Festival will be limited to three days, the same amount of time the film festival has devoted to the smaller screen for the last few years. Choosing the fall as the time of year to launch it was a calculated move on Tribeca Enterprises’ part, as well, to be able to work with their studio and network partners on new programming from their upcoming lineups. While festivals often get a lot of attention for red carpet appearances and reactions to the screenings themselves, the Tribeca TV Festival is also looking to stir up discussion around the 45-minute Q&As planned for each block of programming. “They’re in-depth, ‘had to be there,’ once in a lifetime moments with the cast and creators,” Cusumano says. “It’s a really fan-facing event, and we’re trying to build a community, not just for those fans, but for the filmmakers as well.”

The Tribeca TV Festival is not the first television festival of its kind. The ATX Television Festival held annually in Austin, Texas every June was founded in 2012, celebrating TV shows and their on-screen and behind-the-scenes talent, while ITV Fest, taking place this October in Vermont, is focused on connecting up-and-coming industry professionals with the leaders of today, and Atlanta will see the return of aTVfest, the only festival of its kind to be presented by a university (SCAD), in early 2018.

Additionally, like Tribeca, the Toronto International Film Festival began including television programming in its line-up in 2015, and this coming January, Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival will follow suit.

But Paula Weinstein, Tribeca Enterprise’s exec. vice president believes the Tribeca TV Festival is set apart by the authority of its brand, under the guidance of co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, as well as Tribeca Enterprises CEO Andrew Essex and Cusumano herself.

“We’re seeing renowned storytellers and emerging artists creating some of the most engaging work in this space, and we’ve launched the TV Festival to celebrate that. Tribeca is the first film festival to launch a standalone festival dedicated to TV, so we don’t see any direct competitors in this space,” Weinstein tells Variety.

To help keep the TV and film festivals aligned, Cusumano say they are looking for series that “feel cinematic.” The 10 programs selected represent a selective crop of dramas, comedies, and docuseries, quite of few of which come from some of their film festival’s alumni, another important element to keeping the festival sensibilities the same. “We have a number of projects that come from creators who have been at the Tribeca Film Festival like David Gordon Green, Steven Soderbergh, Ava DuVernay,” Cusumano says. “There’s a sensibility that does feel like it has something in common with our films, but because it’s fan-facing, we’re not too elitist with what we program.”

The Tribeca TV Festival is also setting out to cement itself as forward-thinking, not only with the types of shows it curates and delivers to the audience but also the method of delivery. Cusumano has also programmed a docu-series presented in virtual reality (“Look But With Love” from Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy).

“This may be only our first year as a standalone festival [but] we want to be open to growing it,” says Cusumano. “TV is continuing to evolve, too, so we’re open to taking it into new directions if that feels right.”

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