How to Run a TV Festival in a TV Strike

ATX TV Festival respects writers as they work and protest


ATX TV Festival co-founders and co-Presidents Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland (photo by John Anderson)

2023 was supposed to be ATX TV Festival's big reboot. After two years of pandemic-era online programming, a smaller return in 2022, and then its acquisition by Penske Media last November, season 12 of the celebration of the small screen looked set to come in like a clear signal. Then the Writers Guild of America went on strike. No wonder there's a long-suffering if good-humored tone to co-founder and co-President Caitlin McFarland's voice. "I have found myself saying for the last two weeks, 'Can we just have one normal year?'"

The strike means that she, fellow co-founder and co-President Emily Gipson, and their team have changed their programming to respect the writers' struggle. Gipson said, "It's very much us having conversations with the WGA so we know from them what strike compliance is."

Only four events had to be completely canceled: a daytime appearance by Late Night host Seth Meyers; the return of festival alum Tony Gilroy to discuss his Peabody-winning Disney+ series, Andor; a conversation with the creative team behind Hulu's Tiny Beautiful Things; and a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Dawson's Creek. Gipson said they hope they will all happen at future festivals. After two years of pandemic disruption, the team is experienced in rescheduling for later years, even that Dawson's Creek reunion, which Gipson compared to the Scrubs reunion (planned for 2020 and finally taking place in 2023). It will happen, she said, "it may just not be on that magical 25 number."

Other programming has filled the open slots, and those conversations with the WGA led to the addition of the WGA on Strike! panel (Sat., June 3, 2pm, Stateside). Moreover, issues the strike raises have made some panels more timely. The recent round of deletions from streaming services will inevitably be part of Physical Media, Digital Landscape (Sun., June 4, 1:30pm, Driskill Citadel Club), while Artificial Intelligence & Us (Fri., June 2, noon, Driskill Maximilian Room) has pivoted away from shows about AI to include writers who want to talk about how AI will affect scriptwriting as a career.

The most recent advice from the WGA to members is basically to not do events organized by – or appear on behalf of – the studios, "but it is ultimately coming down to that writer and what they want to do," McFarland said. "We're getting the gamut, from 'I'm just going to stay home' to 'I want to talk about writing and the strike' to 'I want to sit in the audience and watch things.'"

And there's still plenty to watch across the four-day festival, including the hot-ticket Cheers reunion and script read (the festival's first event at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, which McFarland credited to the support of Penske for being able to organize) and a final series screening for Mayans M.C., a show that premiered at the fest in 2017. "That's always something that we really love," McFarland said, "being a bookend or a launch for a show."


ATX TV Festival, June 1-4. Tickets and passes at atxfestival.com.

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