After the negative, to put it lightly, experience of the Gilmore Girls line, I started the final day of ATX Season 4 trepidatious, to say the least. Fortunately, my fears that the frustrations of day three would bleed into and infect day four proved unfounded. I began the day with a screening of the Orphan Black episode that had aired the night before. This was followed by a Q&A moderated by Natalie Abrams of EW and featuring co-creator Graeme Manson and actor Kristian Bruun. The episode was well received, with comedic and dramatic moments prompting audible reactions from the crowd. The series’ tone is well suited to a screening like this and the episode that wound up airing this weekend, “Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method”, was a particularly good fit. At the panel afterward, Manson and Bruun had fun describing their filming and writing process. Bruun in particular was game, twerking for the cheering audience when requested and reminiscing about his favorite moments of the series.
Due to the scheduling for the day, after Orphan Black I opted to grab breakfast—my first since landing in Austin—instead of lining up for another panel immediately. I wanted to make sure I’d get into the festival-ending The Leftovers panel and feared I’d be stuck too far back in line if I only allowed 30 minutes or so. With the festival growing, these are the decisions more and more fans will have to make: see only a handful of panels you’re passionate about and wait in line for hours to do so, or go to more, but only those that few people are interested in. Heading to the line early resulted in a pleasant (for me—I was inside. I can’t speak for those outside), if lengthy wait for The Leftovers.
After chatting with my neighbors in line for an hour or so, we moved up into the room and settled in. While my interactions with ATX volunteers were positive all weekend, I got my first glimpse of behavior I’d heard many grumbling about as we waited for the panel to begin. I was seated in the second row of chairs in the room when someone affiliated with ATX came up to the row ahead of me and told the people sitting there, politely, that they’d need to give up their seats. They were needed for VIPs. Thankfully, the badge holders, all of whom had either spent a Fast Pass on the panel or had waited in line for over an hour, didn’t budge. When they were asked to move, the room was almost full—they would have been relegated to the very back. Instead, volunteers moved up the sofas in front of the first row of chairs and added another row of chairs. Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson, among others, ended up in those seats.
Shortly after this, Ben Blacker (co-creator of The Thrilling Adventure Hour and host of the Nerdist Writers Panel) came out to moderate the panel, welcoming showrunner Damon Lindelof and director and producer Mimi Leder for a discussion of the series before bringing out the surprise additions to the festival of cast members Christopher Eccleston, Carrie Coon, and Ann Dowd. The panel was an absolute blast, with Blacker, who has lots of hosting experience due to his podcast, asking interesting and thoughtful questions and each of the panelists giving entertaining, considered responses. ATX plans to put the video for each of its panels online and I highly encourage fans of the series, or any of the panelists, or TV in general, to seek it out. It was a wonderful way to end the festival, and indicative of what ATX could be: energizing, lively discussion about television from knowledgeable moderators and guests, for an audience of critical thinkers who are passionate about the medium. The specter of the Gilmore Girls debacle, however, tempered the experience slightly, organizers once again prioritizing VIPs over attendees and asking badge holders to pay for their poor planning (failing to label and set aside VIP seating for The Leftovers).
Television is a remarkable medium, one with a passionate and increasingly vocal fan base that is completely under-served in this arena. There are film festivals all around the world. The United States only has one dedicated, open-to-the-general-public television festival, and it’s ATX, which means that for now, festival organizers have a monopoly. Nothing will force them to address problems that, according to every returnee I spoke with, are not new issues. TV fans deserve better; hopefully ATX organizers care about the negative experiences of a significant portion of their badge holders and will take meaningful steps to mitigate them next year. The Bunheads and The Leftovers panels showed one version of what ATX could be. The Gilmore Girls line showed its opposite. I truly hope, for all the TV fans out there thirsty for this kind of experience, that ATX decides it wants to be the former.