ATX: Wrapping up the Weekend in Austin

Austin Television Experience (Photo: atxfestival.com)
Austin Television Experience (Photo: atxfestival.com)

We conclude our coverage of Season 3 of the Austin Television Experience. What changes can we hope for in Season 4 of ATX?

It has been a long weekend of television and industry folks and fandom here in Austin, Texas. This is my first time attending any sort of event like this, and the concept of the Austin Television Experience is of particular appeal to me rather than, say, Comic Con, which has a television component but isn’t solely focused on the medium. Overall, I enjoyed my experience here. My group stayed in a fabulous house, I got to attend several interesting panels, and spotted a handful of celebrities.1

But the question remains: would I come back next year? A deep discount was offered for tickets to next year’s event for this year’s attendees that, while tempting, might lock me into a program in which I may not have 100% interest. There were some noticeable issues with this year’s ATX Festival:

  • Where are the people of color? How do I put this delicately? This conference was WHITE, y’all. Most of the lead organizers, as well as the ATX non-profit’s entire advisory board, are white and it showed in the programming offered. Although OITNB was a featured panel, with stars Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks representing the show, they were there speaking after the screening of an episode that was exclusively about Piper and Alex. The only other person of color panelist I saw was Seaton Smith from Mulaney. Granted, some of this may be due to availability—I heard Key & Peele are interested but had production conflicts, and Scandal is way too big of a get for ATX—but conversation by proxy is better than no conversation at all.
  • Where are the dudes? It didn’t surprise me that the OITNB screening was about 80/20 female/male. What did surprise me was that the Orphan Black screening was about 90/10. Based on an informal survey, guys like the show too, so I suspect there may be an imbalance in the population who is attending this event overall. After noticing this, I started paying attention to the audience makeup at my other panels and saw a mostly female audience. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that most of the panelists and invited guests are male and seven of the ten finalists in the pitch competition came from dudes. Had Tara Ariano not been a late addition to the critics’ panel, it would have been all guys. I’m not sure what outcome I want from this observation…maybe just acknowledgement of who is in the room?
  • SQUEEEEEEEEEEE! So the crew I was rolling with this weekend is part of the GoodTVeets posse, which includes academics, critics, and superfans. Based on a collection of anecdata2, those who fell into the superfan portion of the Venn diagram had more decisions to make regarding which panels to attend as they had more conflicts to resolve on their schedule. Those who leaned more toward academic didn’t seem to have much conflict at all, as the ballroom at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental hosted most of the non-screening sessions. However, the SQUEEEEE factor also dictated some of the programming choices, with several Friday Night Lights souvenirs and events (which have happened all three seasons of ATX) and panels for Roswell and Revenge. Again, I don’t know what outcome I want from this observation, but if next year’s calendar leans more toward fandom than the industry/criticism, I will be less likely to attend.

There were very few sell-out panels this weekend, which indicates the Austin Television Experience may have plateaued in terms of its current appeal. This is not necessarily a bad thing: manageable crowds are great for everybody involved and the scheduling makes it impossible to have a plan B if your first choice screening/panel fills up before you can get in. If the festival wants to expand, it will need to bring some gender/racial/audience diversity to its presentations and/or tailor its mission for the audience sector in which it wishes to grow, be it feminist/superfans/aspiring TV industry players or some other category.

  1. Including Orange is the New Black‘s Lea DeLaria, who stopped by our table at a bar to crash our party. It was awesome.  
  2. I believe those are sometimes called “conversations”  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles

Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it “TV Camp.” After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv