The seventh annual ATX Television Festival, held in Austin, Texas this June, premiered new series (HBO’s “Sharp Objects”) and seasons (“NBC’s “Trial & Error”) and held in-depth conversations with creatives and executives in the television business that ranged from pitching series to dealing with the #MeToo movement on-screen.
Variety was on the ground at the festival to cover the news and events. Here, we break down 10 key takeaways.
‘Love Is___’ … complicated
Salim Akil was not behind Mara Brock Akil’s plan to create a drama based on their real life relationship. “But as her friend, I couldn’t tell her what to do with her art,” he acknowledged. The duo admitted they had to “have conversations” with certain people in their lives in order to point out that they would see some things on screen in “Love Is___”, which premieres June 19 on OWN, that might take them back to emotional places of the 1990s. “What I hope people take away from the show, period, is that love is a journey, and it’s feasible if you define it for yourself,” Brock Akil said.
‘Sharp Objects’ Was Almost a Movie
Jason Blum had optioned Gillian Flynn’s novel and was trying to find a way to make it work as a movie when Marti Noxon read it and called her agent to find out who had the rights. “Movies with complicated female leads don’t get the support and they don’t get the attention they deserve,” Noxon said, so she laid out her case for turning “Sharp Objects” into a TV project, on par with the most recent years of her career, where she acknowledged she took “difficult women projects…and put them on TV.” Series star Amy Adams added that because “television is in a renaissance…it’s a great place for stories — especially this story.”
Shor Steps Behind the Scenes
“Younger” star Miriam Shor directed an episode of the fifth season, currently airing on TV Land. The episode will feature “two big parties with lots of extras,” she told Variety, as well as a lot of “exteriors in New York City during a freezing cold season” — both of which posed unique challenges for the first time director. “Part of what I wanted to learn were what those challenges are and if I could rise to the occasion,” she said of stepping behind the camera.
Sutter’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Spinoff is Post-Jax
Kurt Sutter premiered a portion of his “Sons of Anarchy” spinoff “Mayans MC” at the festival, revealing that the show takes place in present day, on the border of California and Mexico. Therefore, the world is still racked by what happened to Jax (Charlie Hunnam) at the end of “Sons.” But the memory of Jax isn’t the only connection the shows will have, as cast member Emilio Rivera transitions into the new FX drama, too. “We want to honor where we came from and those fans, and then balance that with having a show that is original and different and doesn’t feel like the Latino version of ‘Sons of Anarchy,'” the actor said.
‘You’ Explores ‘Toxic Masculinity’
Sera Gamble’s new Lifetime drama “You,” based on Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, centers on a character named Joe (Penn Badgley) who stalks the object of his affection. The character sees himself as someone who can protect the woman he loves (played by Elizabeth Lail), but the actor admitted he was conflicted about the role — a man who displays such “toxic masculinity.” “In a way, either Dan Humphrey is becoming a murderer or I’m murdering [him] on camera,” he said of going from the teen melodrama “Gossip Girl” to this much more mature material.
Chenoweth Plays Against Type in ‘Trial & Error’
When approaching the second season of his sort-of anthology crime satire “Trial & Error,” series co-creator Jeff Astrof said he thought Kristin Chenoweth would be the perfect person to embody the alleged murderess, Lavinia Peck-Foster, from the wealthy family that basically built the town in his NBC series. But he was told she would never do it. Luckily for him — and the audience — that turned out not to be true. Chenoweth was not only game for the role but also for every twist in the story that this year will deal with issues of class and what happens to a small town when a beloved figure is caught up in a scandal. “I got to do things on this show I’ve never done before,” Chenoweth said.
Guest Directors Can Be Problematic for Some Series
The discussion about flawed TV characters briefly pivoted to a discussion about “the flawed TV system” when “Kingdom” and “Westworld” star Jonathan Tucker pointed out that often a director will come in to do one episode of a series and “want you to be bigger, louder…they may just want it for their reel.” “Halt and Catch Fire” star Scoot McNairy told a story about a pivotal scene in which his character was reading his child a bedtime story after a combative day with his business partner Joe (Lee Pace), and the director wanted him to seethe with rage as he read. “But I’m reading to my kid,” McNairy countered. On another panel specifically devoted to directors who shoot the whole season (or series), veteran helmer Pamela Fryman explained the benefit of having a consistent voice who knows the show running the set: “You get to know what’s happening — what’s coming down the line — and what you’re doing that day is influenced by what’s up ahead and something that’s happened in the past. The machine runs better. …You foster a relationship with the actors and with the crew that you don’t get when you’re just there for one week.”
‘Castle Rock’ Casts Allison Tolman
Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason, the “Castle Rock” executive producers, broke news that Allison Tolman was cast in their Hulu anthology series set in the Stephen King universe during their panel June 8. They revealed that after Melanie Lynskey’s casting was announced, Tolman tweeted a congratulatory message to her — and added a line about wanting to play her sister. Shaw and Thomason had been planning for her character to have a sister anyway and “as soon as [Tolman] said that, we were like, ‘She would be the perfect sister,'” Thomason shared.
‘The Americans’: We’ll Never Know If Renee Is a Spy
Despite repeated questioning, the cast and executive producers wouldn’t answer the lingering question about whether Stan Beeman’s (Noah Emmerich) wife Renee is indeed a Russian spy — as Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) said to Stan in the series finale. “I say never trust a woman who goes to bed fully made up with her hair done,” joked Rhys. Replied Emmerich: “Now you tell me!”
‘Better Call Saul’: An ‘Important’ Character from ‘Breaking Bad’ Will Appear in Season 4
Vince Gilligan and Bob Odenkirk held court during the festival’s closing night to recount the creation of the character of Saul Goodman, who first appeared in season 2 of “Breaking Bad.” The prequel series “Better Call Saul,” which traces Saul’s origin story as Jimmy McGill, has slowly introduced characters from the “Breaking Bad” world into the show, including Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). And season 4 will continue the trend, with Gilligan and Odenkirk telling Variety that an “important character” from the original series making his or her debut.