This week I attended the New York Television Festival, celebrating independent TV. Months ago I submitted The Adventures of Rick Brickman, a pilot script I wrote with Mike Pace, to the FOX Comedy Script Contest, which is part of the festival. In mid-July we heard that out of 880 submissions, we had made the cut of 25 Finalists. From there it would be cut to 3 “final” Finalists, and the winner would get $25,000 and a meeting with FOX. We quickly but deliberately read and signed the contract, all scripts remain “optioned” by FOX until mid-October, in case there is any internal interest in the script if it is not selected as the winner.
The festival was a surprisingly good time, and very informative. As finalists, we received artist’s passes, enabling us to attend any screening, seminar or discussion. The heart of the fest is the screening of indie pilots in comedy, drama or non-fiction categories. I probably saw 15-20 new shows over the 5 days. However, the lungs, liver, kidneys and brain of the fest were the panel discussions and informal industry chats. Mike and I attended many as possible. The amount of information I don’t know is expanding exponentially, and that’s a good thing.
Here are a few highlights:
- The Theater 2 Television Panel, discussing transitioning a career from one to the other. Playwright Theresa Rebeck told of her days of temping FOLLOWING getting her PhD. Kristen Johnston told about moving to L.A. because she booked the Martin Short show, only to be replaced the day before shooting was to begin. Fortunately for her, only a month or so later she auditioned for Third Rock from the Sun.
- The amount of comedy talent onstage for the late night panel was incredible. Writers from Conan, Daily Show, Colbert Report, Letterman and Saturday Night Live all discussed how a typical week goes for their shows. A few interesting facts: the average top ten list on Letterman is whittled down from over 100 suggestions per topic. Also, Jason Sudeikis, SNL cast member and panel moderator, told of the idea he pitched for the opening week of SNL. Since urine is considered a cure for athletes foot, he wanted to do a fake commercial which bottles and sells Michael Phelp’s urine. Called Pee-elps. Neither Lorne Michaels or Michael Phelps were too interested. Apparently the pitches made in the first meeting each week are rarely written; they are pitched mostly to make the other writers laugh, and then abandoned. All writers on the panel bristled when asked why there are so few female writers on staff. SNL currently has four, not counting cast members. That is more than any other show. Late Night doesn’t have any. It was an awkward moment while they answered this question.
- Ben Silverman, co-chair of NBC, believes that the future of scripted television involves product branding, or co-sponsorship of shows by corporations with their products heavily featured in the show. Which reminds me, keep an eye out for my new pilot script, Marty and Carol Work at the Applebees next to the Macys at the Mall of America.
- While most of the pilots screened in competition ranged from pretty good to mediocre, the quality of content in the NBC Short Cuts competition was very high. Most of the shorts were very funny and smart. And I’m not just saying that because the party following the screening was fully catered. Strange Faculty, about a three high school teachers who suddenly possess very strange and extremely limited super powers, was probably the best short I saw this week.
- Most of the people I met were disappointed that there weren’t more industry around at the open bar events at the end of the night. While I did have a few great conversations with producers and panelists, I think those who came in from out of town on their own dime were expecting a rocket ride to the career of their dreams.
Alas, Rick Brickman was not a winner at this festival, but we were consoled by the tons of free drinks, occasional free meals, the swag, the knowledge learned, and the new friends made from Seattle, New Orleans, and Atlanta, to name a few places. Plus I got a free bottle of Malibu.
If anyone wants a free bottle of Malibu, let me know.