I have been attending and writing about the New York Television Festival (NYTVF) since it launched back in 2005. I first covered it for the New York Times and have since reported on it for E! Online, AOL TV and A.D.D. While there are plenty of film festivals out there to nurture up and coming cinematic talent, there are less opportunities for small screen dreamers to showcase their abilities. NYTVF founder and executive director Terence Gray has made it his mission to let those voices be heard, and for the last several years his festival has showcased indie pilots, bestowed awards and development deals and allowed young talent to meet experienced movers and shakers through screenings and panels.
That tradition continues this year, and last night NYTVF commenced with two premieres: the Fox animated comedy Allen Gregory starring Jonah Hill, and the yet to be (presumably soon to be) aired indie pilot Maron from comedian and popular WTF podcaster Marc Maron. They complemented and contrasted one another: the former being about a precocious child struggling to take things down a notch to fit in at elementary school, the latter focusing on a man-child needing to grow up. Both drew plenty of laughter from their audiences and both featured stars that like to command center stage.Allen Gregory creator and star Hill, along with co-writers Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, was stoked to be showing their pilot to a live audience. The series has been three years in the making, and the actor joked that after it was written, it was sent off to Korea to be animated by very young children before it came back for post-production work. What resulted is a show that has been described as having a New Yorker magazine feel while focusing on a condescending seven year-old who talks like an Ivy League grad, lives and spars with with his gay dads and adopted sister and copes with having to assimilate with normal kids his age. The bright side of his educational enrollment? He has the hots for his fat, sixtysomething principal. You probably don’t want to know. The show’s writers clearly want to offend while being entertaining. If you like both to happen at the same time, as many in attendance seemed to, this is your show.
For the rambunctious post-screening panel moderated by TV Guide business editor Stephen Battaglio, the trio was joined by executive producer/showrunner David A. Goodman, known for producing (and some writing on) Family Guy and Futurama. Goodman quipped that he was brought on board because Hill, Mogel and Paul needed a parent. It’s clear that was the truth as the writing trio, Hill in particular, kept cracking jokes, lampooned Fox’s standards department (they receive notes on whether some farts are too wet sounding) and inexplicably turned much of the focus onto Goodman’s short-lived sitcom Babes from the early Nineties. (Distracting mission accomplished: I looked it up online.) It was not the most illuminating panel, more like a runaway train, but you can see that these guys love their gig.
The second screening of the night, the yet-to-be released pilot Maron, is an autobiographical, scripted comedy about the life of comedian and WTF podcaster Marc Maron. Produced by Denis Leary and Jim Serpico’s Apostle production company, it was equally as un-PC and irreverent as Allen Gregory but in different ways. The late forty-ish talk show host evidently has a lot cope with, although it’s not so horrible: a hot 27 year-old girlfriend who wants to move in with him, a cantankerous father (Ed Asner) who pushes more drugs on him than his old coke dealer (okay, they’re vitamins) and ultimately trying to figure out when to let go of his immature adolescent side and at least try to act mature once in awhile. In the middle we get to watch him unleash his off-the-cuff radio personality as he interviews Ken Jeong from the Hangover movies.
During the post-screening discussion, Maron made fun of audience members and himself and admitted to being nervous watching the screening. While he is used to podcasting and doing stand-up, seeing himself on the big screen was a new and nervewracking experience. (One fan later told him she saw him slumped in his seat near her for the whole show.) Viewers at NYTVF responded well to Maron’s onscreen state of arrested development and appreciated his personal anecdotes as well, including making coffee for Asner, working with cats that were not his own and avoiding getting caught in a family feud on his podcast. (His humorous observations on working with show cats will emerge on A.D.D. soon.) A couple of years ago, Maron was depressed about his life and suicidal; now he’s on top of the world. That’s a strong comeback.
All in all, the opening night of NYTVF 2011 was a success. Comedy works well for them. The festival continues to run through Saturday, so check out their programming schedule to see what is coming up. Lost executive producer/co-creator Damon Lindelof will deliver a keynote address tomorrow night, followed by a late night comedy writers panel hosted by SNL‘s Jason Sudeikis.
Following are more photos from NYTVF’s opening night events, which took place at the SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street in Manhattan.