More than two decades after Sundance and other film festivals began infusing American cinema with fresh, cutting-edge talent, characters and stories, a similar creative spirit is about to hit TV, thanks to the inaugural New York Television Festival, which will run from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3 in downtown Manhattan.
The event is the brainchild of Terence Gray, who once asked audiences Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as a writer for the smash-hit reality series. Now, as the founder and executive director of the NYTVF, he hopes to find out who wants to change the face of television by inviting would-be J.J. Abramses, Larry Davids and Mark Burnetts to compete for a chance to impress Hollywood heavyweights and maybe, just maybe, earn a shot at their very own show. "A lot of creative people went into film because there was a platform there for independent, next-generation artists who knew that if they made a movie, they could probably get it into the 100 or 200 film festivals around the world. There was no outlet for independent television artists to get their work in front of executives in the same way," says Gray, who has also worked as a producer for VH1, ESPN and others. "As our greatest shared medium, television should in turn be our greatest shared canvas and now, for the first time, it will be."
Presented in association with TV Guide, the NYTVF has already piqued the interest of ABC, NBC, Comedy Central, Creative Artists Agency, the William Morris Agency and Deutsch Inc., all of which have representatives on the festival's executive board. In addition, A&E and Rainbow Media (IFC, AMC, WE) have signed on as official sponsors, with more networks currently under discussion to join.
"Why hasn't this been done before?" asks Donny Deutsch, CEO of Deutsch Inc. and host of CNBC's The Big Idea, who serves on the NYTVF's board. "In an age where there are more and more alternatives to traditional television, you need really fresh content. What better time, what better place [than this festival], to have a showcase for all that's exciting and new in TV."
To ensure the best possible programming, the NYTVF has opened up its Independent Pilot Competition to aspiring writers, directors and producers from around the world. They can submit half-hour or hourlong pilots in five categories: drama, comedy, reality, documentary and animation.
"So far we've received pilots from all over the United States as well as the U.K., Australia and South America, from a mixture of professionals, amateurs and college students," Gray says. "The main rule is that the pilots can't have been funded by a studio or network."
In addition to the new pilots, the NYTVF will also present screenings of current shows from around the world and classic episodes, commercials and clips from decades past, all open to the public to enjoy.
For both the competitors and the broadcast and cable television execs invited to attend, the appeal of the festival should be obvious, according to Gray: "What would normally take a month of meetings in New York and Los Angeles will be accomplished in one day. Development people from across the television landscape will have an opportunity to see your pilot at the same time — if it's something hot, there could be an instant bidding war. And executives will get to sit with the general public, see pilots that are in a mature state and, based on the reaction of the crowd, know whether or not they may have a hit without actually spending any money."
Think you have a concept that deserves to be on television? Prove it: Pilot submissions for the NYTVF will be accepted through Aug. 1, 2005. For more information on how to enter, go to their website.