Grandma Saracen

ATX Television Festival: A Time of Highs and Lows

Sometime last Monday night my mom and I pulled into the driveway after what ended up being a pretty insane whirlwind of an experience. 2,200 miles, 6 states, 9 TV panels/screenings, 2 historic home tours, 46 celebrity encounters, 2 sketchy hotels, 5 days. Yeah, I think whirlwind is the right word.

We left home early on Wednesday, June 3 with the short-term goal of reaching Graceland in Memphis for a quick tour. Despite the shocking absence of a single billboard advertising Elvis’s home, we made it to the estate and enjoyed our weird little tour. Here are a couple of my favorite features of the incredibly lavish home.

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After Graceland, our only intention was to make it to somewhere around Dallas. The drive from home to Austin, TX is 15 hours, so we figured stopping in Dallas (a mere 3 hours north of Austin) would be an appropriate end to our day. This was a fine goal, but we unintentionally ended up in a shady hotel that reeked of smoke. Note to self: if a hotel is the only one available at a given exit, keep driving.

THURSDAY

After departing Thursday morning, we drove the final three hours to Austin, stopping only for a quick breakfast and trip to IKEA. We headed into downtown Austin to register for the festival. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of what happened that afternoon and evening:

  • First celebrity encounters: seeing Todd Lowe, Keiko Agena, and John Cabrera (all of Gilmore Girls) and having a quick conversation
  • Ran into Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard (stars of Girl Meets World) for the first of about a million times
  • Talked to Derek Phillips and Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights) and took a photo, bonding over our mutual love of our pets and the gross Texas heat
  • Saw and talked quickly to Liz Torres (Gilmore Girls) — she looks awesome, by the way
  • Attended the premiere screening of Complications, a new USA show
  • Had a moment with the show’s stars, Jessica Szohr and Beth Riesgraf, on our way into the theater and they were really cute
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: Wilmer Valderrama (That 70s Show, From Dusk Til Dawn), Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights), Nick Wechsler (Revenge), Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), Sutton Foster (Broadway star, on TV in Bunheads and Younger), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Sarah Ramos and Miles Heizer (Parenthood)

Here are some photos of the people and places mentioned:

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FRIDAY

Friday began bright and early with our first real panel of the festival: “A Conversation with Marta Kauffman,” plus a screening of her new Netflix show, Grace and Frankie. In case you aren’t aware, Marta Kauffman is part of the creative team responsible for Friends, which is my favorite TV show ever (and probably yours, too). It was a pretty big deal for me to sit in a room with her.

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Here are some other highlights from Friday:

  • Running from one Marta Kauffman panel (pictured above) to another — she spoke with the creators of Justified and Queer as Folk in a panel on final episodes
  • Accidentally becoming part of a mob formed around Ben Savage (Boy Meets World), who is tiny, friendly, and left-handed — we also saw the girls of Girl Meets World again and snapped a few pics

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  • Running into Marta Kauffman and saying something kind of dumb to her but I STILL TALKED TO MARTA KAUFFMAN, PEOPLE
  • Sitting front row at the panel called “Drunk History‘s History,” featuring the show’s creator, Derek Waters, and two of the narrators from the upcoming third season, Duncan Trussell and Dan Harmon (the creator of Community)

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  • Meeting Nick Wechsler, star of Revenge, after the Drunk History panel

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  • Stumbling upon Judy Greer (Married) doing an interview outside the women’s restroom
  • Walking behind a man and commenting on his terrible hair before realizing said man was Denis Leary (to be fair, he was there to promote his new show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll which I think is the reason for the hair)
  • Running into Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights) in the hotel lobby and getting a photo, taken by her daughter, as well as signed and personalized postcards she’d had made at Kinko’s

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  • Attending the wonderful Friday Night Lights tailgate and being smart enough to sit in the shade directly in front of the special reserved section for the show’s attending stars
  • Seeing Amy Sherman Palladino (creator of Gilmore Girls) just before a surprise performance from Hep Alien, the fictional band from Gilmore Girls
  • Other celebrity sightings for the day: James L. Brooks (creator of all important television), Danny Strong (actor on Gilmore Girls, writer of Game Change, Mockingjay, Empire), Jackson Douglas (Gilmore Girls), Adrianne Palicki, Derek Phillips, Stacey Oristano, Angela Rawna, Libby Villari, Katherine Willis, Stephen Walters (all of Friday Night Lights)

Here are some photos from the tailgate:

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SATURDAY

Saturday started with a low: not getting into the “Coffee with Amy Sherman Palladino” panel, because the line had started at 5:00 AM and the panel was in the smallest venue at the festival. Not perfect planning. On the upside, our minutes spent wasting time were quickly filled by the appearance of Scott Patterson (Gilmore Girls). He pulled us in for this “mother-daughter picture” (his words), so that was pretty cool.

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Other moments from Saturday worth remembering:

  • Finding Kelly Bishop (Gilmore Girls) outside and taking an accidentally dramatic black-and-white photo with her

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  • Attending one of my favorite panels of the weekend: “Empire: The Creatives” featuring the brilliant Danny Strong and the beautiful Wendy Calhoun

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  • Sitting front row for the presentation of the ATX Award for Excellence in Television to James L. Brooks, the man responsible for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Simpsons, and Taxi, among many others. This was MAJOR.

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Now things turn in a bit of an upsetting direction, and I’m going to do my best to condense this story. Our main reason for attending the festival was the Gilmore Girls Reunion panel, held at 7:00 PM Saturday night. This was going to be the highlight of our weekend, though we were plenty excited for many of the other panels and events, too. The line for the GG reunion was supposed to start at 5:00 PM, and the festival’s Head of Security promised us that anyone attempting to get in line ahead of this time would be sent to the back of the line. She also told us that staying in the hotel lobby until 5:00 was a good idea, and we’d be fine to still get into the reunion.

This turned out to be a big lie. We anxiously waited until 5:00 to go to the line, at which time we found that the line had already wrapped around two street corners (though it wasn’t yet 5:01). The big mob at the front of the line wasn’t sent to the back as promised; instead, we at the end had to continually move back further so space could be created at the front of the line. Counters came by more than once, and still told us we should be fine to get into the event. We waited in line for two-and-a-half hours in the 90-plus degree heat, and sometime around 7:30, just as we approached the theater’s front doors, we were told that the reunion had already begun and all seats were occupied.

So, we didn’t get in.

There were tears and lots and lots of frustrated fans. We heard from several people inside that there were, in fact, empty seats. It was generally a giant bummer. I’m doing my best in retrospect to keep it from clouding my overall experience. If we’d known earlier that we wouldn’t get in, we would’ve at least gone around the building to watch the red carpet, but we were stuck in line. We ended the night trying to hang around any entrances/exits we thought the GG cast might use, and ended up only seeing the very tall Jared Padalecki from a far distance. Not the best end to an otherwise good day.

Other celebrity sightings for the day: Yanic Truesdale, Jackson Douglas, and Milo Ventimiglia (all of Gilmore Girls).

SUNDAY

As far as the festival was concerned, we really only had one thing on the agenda for Sunday: attending the Dawson’s Creek script reading of the show’s pilot episode, featuring special guests. This was actually the best thing we did at the festival on a purely entertaining level. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours for the event, but it was worth the wait, and we also saw Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, The Good Wife) walk by, so that was fun.

The primary four cast members were all gender swapped, which obviously provided for some pretty blatant fun, and the level of drama found in basically any Dawson’s Creek script provides the perfect backdrop for a live script reading. Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator, also served as a narrator of sorts for the reading. I truly hope this is an event the ATX Television Festival can do every year, because I loved being part of it.

Here’s a list of the cast for the script reading:

  • Dawson Leery, played by Mae Whitman (Parenthood)
  • Joey Potter, played by Patrick J. Adams (Suits)
  • Pacey Witter, played by Abigail Spencer (Rectify)
  • Jen Lindley, played by Kerr Smith (original Dawson’s Creek cast member!)
  • Grams, played by Louanne Stephens (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mr. Leery, played by Derek Phillips (Friday Night Lights)
  • Mrs. Leery, played by Stacey Oristano (Friday Night Lights, Bunheads)
  • Tamara Jacobs, played by Arielle Kebbel (Gilmore Girls, The Vampire Diaries)
  • Bessie/Nellie, played by Kristian Bruun (Orphan Black)
  • Bodie/Mr. Gold, played by Nick Wechsler (Revenge)

Here are some photos from the script reading:

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You might also note that the last picture features Mae Whitman with a framed photo of Tim Riggins. This was a prop from the Riggins house on the Friday Night Lights set that Stacey Oristano brought as a special present for Mae. I’m kind of super jealous that she owns it.

After the script reading, we went back to the hotel quickly, where we found Liza Weil (Gilmore Girls, How to Get Away with Murder) and got a picture. We bonded over being lefties.

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Finally, I popped into a brunch sponsored by MTV’s Teen Wolf, where there was a photo booth set up for people to take photos with cast members Shelley Hennig, Tyler Posey, and Holland Roden. Tyler Posey told me I could sit on him or get on his shoulders for the photo, but I opted for something more normal.

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After this, we watched a few actors hop into a car headed for the airport before heading out of Austin ourselves. We took a different route on the drive home to spend some time in Louisiana, where neither of us had been before. After many hours driving in terrible traffic and construction, we got a hotel in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Monday morning we made our way out early, stopping for a bit in Oxford, MS so I could revisit the home of William Faulkner because I love him. About seven hours later, we made it home.

Our few days on the road were exhausting, exhilarating, and occasionally upsetting, but I’m happy for the experience. ATX Television Festival is young and still has many kinks to work out, but I hope I’ll be able to return in the future. Until then, you can find me in front of my own TV, soaking in as much of it as I can.

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