As the film festival world continues to explore how best to spotlight the explosion of great television within its programming, it’s perhaps the small-screen-specific fests that might be the best guide for doing it successfully.
For example, this weekend’s second annual Tribeca TV Festival, an offshoot of the well-established Tribeca Film Festival, will showcase some truly exciting TV, both studio and independent. “We’re aiming for TV experiences that mirror our programming goals for the main festival—that is, finding unique storytelling pieces for a wide range of audiences that promise a post-screening interaction with the creative talent in front of and behind the camera,” said senior programmer Liza Domnitz. “Whether that be a beloved, returning favorite series like ‘Ray Donovan,’ a premiere black comedy like ‘Wayne,’ or a commemoration of a new type of storytelling with ‘Shark Tank,’ we want to offer people the opportunity to have a singular TV experience at the Fest.”
One aspect of that singular experience is the communal element. Writer/director Matthew Carnahan, whose new Nat Geo series “Valley of the Boom” will premiere Friday at the festival, said that “a festival premiere allows me to bring friends and associates in to the conversation around a project of mine, which is when things get interesting and fun. It makes it become a living, breathing organism in our world.”
Added Carnahan: “And — because it gets me out the house — I have to wear pants.”
Carnahan also noted that “I think one of the questions the Tribeca festival asks is ‘what’s next?’ ‘Valley of the Boom,’ for me and my creative team, was the next step in our television evolution. We set out to make something as disruptive as the products the makers in Silicon Valley 1.0 were onto back in the 90s. And in the process of goofing around with a form for telling the story, we came up with something we felt was actually something we had never seen before, a genuine hybrid of (mostly) scripted material with variety show elements thrown in — a rap battle, a dream ballet, imposters, flash mobs. And craziest of all, it seems to be working. And if not, it was the most fun and the most engaging thing I’ve ever created.”
“Boom” is just one of the new shows debuting at Tribeca, although returning shows like “Empire,” “Madam Secretary,” and “Ray Donovan” will also be celebrated.
In addition to the major studio-produced and network-distributed content, the festival will present two blocks of independent television as part of its “Fall Pilot Season” program. “We started our Pilot Season program at the main festival two years ago, which features a small selection of indie pilots looking for acquisition,” Domnitz said. “There are so many fantastic projects out there, it seemed a no-brainer to start including the program in the TV Festival too. Not only do we have a program of five comedy indie pilots (Fall Pilot Season), but in our Midnight Episodics program, we have the first episode of German thriller ‘Pagan Peak,’ from the producers of ‘The Dark.'”
Also premiering is the YouTube Premium series “Wayne,” which executive producer Rhett Reese told IndieWire was exciting for him because “you know you’ve already cleared an objective hurdle with regard to the quality of your show just by virtue of being accepted into the festival. We tend to work in a creative vacuum, so as much as we may like our own material, we never know how the world is going to react to it.”
Added Reese, “We’re thrilled simply to be Tribeca-worthy. To be standing in lockstep with all these other great shows so early in our show’s life, that feels like a reward in itself. Also, just being in Manhattan putting your product on display, is a dream come true. It’s the old song lyric, ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.’ That’s how we feel.”
The festival also features conversations with Bryan Cranston, Rosario Dawson, and Laverne Cox. Below are some key highlights from this year’s Tribeca TV line-up, with official descriptions. For full details and ticket information, visit the official site.
“Law & Order: SVU” (NBC) 20th Anniversary Celebration
Thursday, September 20, 6pm Spring Studios
Twenty seasons strong, “Law & Order: Special Victims Uni”t is the longest-running primetime drama currently on television. This hard-hitting and emotional series from Dick Wolf’s “Law & Order” brand chronicles the cases of the Special Victims Unit of the New York City Police Department, an elite squad of detectives who bring justice to the victims of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence. The Tribeca TV Festival is proud to pay tribute to two decades of this iconic and impactful New York City fan-favorite with an exclusive preview screening of the 20th season premiere and a conversation with those both in front of and behind the camera who have made SVU the institution it is today.
After the Screening: A conversation with Creator and Executive Producer Dick Wolf, star and Executive Producer Mariska Hargitay, co-stars Ice T, Kelli Giddish, Peter Scanavino, Philip Winchester.
“Madam Secretary” (CBS) Season 5 Premiere
Thursday, September 20, 8:15pm Spring Studios
“Madam Secretary” stars Téa Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the shrewd, determined secretary of state who drives international diplomacy and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home. A college professor and a brilliant former CIA analyst who left for ethical reasons, Elizabeth returned to public life at the request of President Conrad Dalton, who values McCord’s apolitical leanings, deep knowledge of the Middle East, flair for languages, and ability to not just think outside the box, but not even acknowledge there is a box. In the season 5 premiere, Elizabeth McCord seeks advice on a delicate situation from her predecessors, guest stars and former secretaries of state Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, and Madeleine Albright.
After the Screening: A conversation with Téa Leoni, Tim Daly, Erich Bergen, Zeljko Ivanek, and Executive Producer Lori McCreary.
“Tracey Ullman’s Show” (HBO) Season 3 World Premiere with Meryl Streep
Friday, September 21, 5:45pm Spring Studios
Celebrated British actress/comedian Tracey Ullman returns for a third season of her three-time Emmy-nominated HBO sketch-comedy series, reprising her takes on beloved real and fictional characters from seasons’ past, including a devilish Dame Judi Dench; long-suffering German Chancellor Angela Merkel; spunky Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; newly-minted stepmother Jerry Hall; ever-optimistic spinster Kay Clark; and many more. This season, Ullman introduces an entertaining and razor-sharp set of new impersonations, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and French First Lady Brigitte Macron, among others.
After the Screening: A conversation with star and executive producer Tracey Ullman interviewed by Meryl Streep.
“StartUp” (Sony Crackle) Season 3 World Premiere
Friday, September 21, 6:30pm Spring Studios
Back for 10 thrilling new episodes, “StartUp” premieres Season 3 of this internationally acclaimed series at the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival. Following the professional and personal travails of Araknet, a tech darknet company, and its ruthlessly ambitious staff, “StartUp” builds with high stakes tension as the team fights their most threatening adversary to date—the U.S. Government.
After the Screening: A conversation with creator, writer and Director Ben Ketai and cast members Mira Sorvino, Edi Gathegi, Ron Perlman, Adam Brody, and Otmara Marrero.
“Valley of the Boom” (Nat Geo) New Series World Premiere
Friday, September 21, 7:45pm Spring Studios
“Valley of the Boom” takes an adrenaline-fueled ride through the culture of speculation, innovation and disruption during Silicon Valley’s unprecedented tech boom and subsequent bust in the 1990s. It’s a timely and captivating story, starring two-time Emmy award-winning actor Bradley Whitford, Steve Zahn, and Lamorne Morris, told through an irreverent blend of drama, comedy and pathos. While most of the show is scripted, Showrunner/Director Matthew Carnahan weaves in select documentary elements that help tell the true inside story of the internet’s fascinating formative years.
After the Screening: A conversation with creator Matthew Carnahan, cast members Bradley Whitford, Steve Zahn, Lamorne Morris, and real-life subject Stephan Paternot, founder of TheGlobe.com.
“Empire” (Fox) Season 5 World Premiere
Saturday, September 22, 3pm Spring Studios
An exclusive peek at the Season 5 premiere of the wildly celebrated series created and executive-produced by Academy Award nominee Lee Daniels and Emmy Award winner Danny Strong. Join Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson) two years after finding their way back to each other to say their “I do’s”— and losing their hold on hip-hop media powerhouse, Empire Entertainment. Though the Lyons have weathered unimaginable tragedies throughout their reign, the family must join forces to rebuild and regain their lost dynasty, one that comes with equal servings of glamour and violence. As their plans begin to take shape, they will be forced to learn – once again – that fame and fortune come with a hefty price tag.
After the Screening: A conversation with Empire’s own Jamal Lyon, Jussie Smollett interviewed by Emil Wilbekin, Chief Content Officer of AFROPUNK and Founder of Native Son.
TRIBECA TALKS: Bryan Cranston — A Special Conversation
Saturday, September 22, 4pm Spring Studios
Marking the 10th anniversary since “Breaking Bad” premiered, the remarkable Bryan Cranston discusses his illustrious career as one of the most versatile performers over the last three decades. First making waves as affable dad, Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle” and Dr. Tim Whatley on “Seinfeld,” Cranston drew worldwide acclaim playing high school teacher – turned drug kingpin, Walter White, for which he won numerous awards including four Emmys. In 2014, Cranston won the Tony Award for his portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson in the Broadway’s “All the Way,” for which he reprised the role for the HBO adaptation of the same name. Cranston’s production company, Moonshot Entertainment produced All The Way and has developed various television series including “Sneaky Pete,” “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” and “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” for Amazon, as well as the Emmy-nominated animated series “SuperMansion” for Sony Crackle. Most recently, Cranston was nominated for a 2018 Emmy for his guest-starring role as Larry’s therapist on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and this November, he brings to Broadway his Olivier Award-winning performance as the “Mad as Hell” Howard Beale, in “Paddy Chayefsky’s Network.”
TRIBECA TALKS: The Journey Inspired by Tumia — A Special Conversation with Rosario Dawson
Saturday, September 22, 5:45pm Spring Studios
Laverne Cox sits down with Rosario Dawson to discuss Dawson’s prolific career, which has taken her from film and television performer, to comic book writer, producer, singer and activist. Dawson first came to attention with her breakout performance in Larry Clark’s film “Kids,” and went on to star in a range of films including the “Sin City” franchise, “25th Hour,” and “Rent.” On the small screen, Dawson first starred as Claire Temple in the Netflix adaptation of “Marvel’s Daredevil,” and has since reprised her role in the Marvel/Netflix series “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist,” “Jessica Jones” and “The Defenders.” Dawson had a recurring role on the hit series “Jane the Virgin” and starred in and executive produced the acclaimed web series “Gemini Division.” Dawson is set to produce and star in USA’s upcoming series “Briarpatch,” written and executive produced by Andy Greenwald (“Legion”) and executive produced by Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”). As an activist, Dawson lends her time to a myriad of organizations, most notably Voto Latino, which she co-founded in 2004. In 2013, Rosario co-founded Studio 189, a fashion and media lifestyle brand made in Africa that produces African and African-inspired content and clothing. The brand currently operates a store in NY and Accra, Ghana, collaborates with brands including EDUN (LVMH) and Yoox Net a Porter, and has been the recipient of various awards including the Martin Luther King Jr Social Justice award.
“Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (CNN) Season 12 World Premiere
Saturday, September 22, 7:30pm Spring Studios
David Scott Holloway
Anthony Bourdain introduces W. Kamau Bell (“United Shades of America”) to the distinctive sights, tastes, and sounds of Kenya. It is Bell’s first trip to the African continent, and to a country that holds a personal connection for him. Through the eyes of Bourdain and Bell, and their first experiences with this highly dynamic deeply, soulful and beautiful country we ask, what will a future Kenya… for Kenyans…. by Kenyans…look like? In this special presentation, viewers will see an extended cut of the final episode finished with Anthony Bourdain’s full involvement, and the last to feature his narration. The screening will be followed by a conversation with Bourdain’s closest collaborators.
After the Screening: A conversation with W. Kamau Bell, Director Morgan Fallon, Showrunner and Executive Producer Sandy Zweig, Executive Producers Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins.
“Wayne” (YouTube Premium) New Series World Premiere
Sunday, September 23, 4:30pm Spring Studios
From the writers of “Deadpool” and “Zombieland,” “Wayne” is a gritty, hilarious, and sometimes bloody roadtrip adventure tale of young love and reckless youth. When the titular teenage renegade’s 1978 Pontiac Trans Am is stolen from his father on his deathbed, Wayne sets out with nothing but a dirt bike and his new crush Del to take back his rightful inheritance. From Southie to South Florida, it is Wayne and Del against the world in this propulsive new must-watch show.
After the Screening: A conversation with series creator Shawn Simmons, stars Mark McKenna and Ciara Bravo, director Iain B. MacDonald, and writer and executive producers Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
“Ray Donovan” (Showtime) Season 6 Premiere
Sunday, September 23, 5pm Spring Studios
As Season 6 of “Ray Donovan” begins, we find Ray (Schreiber) rebuilding his life both personally and professionally in New York City. After being rescued from a plummet into the East River, his savior, a cop named Mac (Domenick Lombardozzi), brings Ray into the fraternity that is the Staten Island Police Department. While exploring this new world of brotherhood and corruption, Ray finds himself once again working for media mogul Sam Winslow (Susan Sarandon). Sam has teamed up with New York City mayoral candidate Anita Novak (Lola Glaudini), a partnership that puts Ray at odds with his new friends out in Staten Island.
After the Screening: A conversation with Showrunner David Hollander and cast members Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight.