BUNHEADS And HANNIBAL: Highlights From ATX Television Festival Season 4

ATX held its biggest TV love fest ever. Get the scoop on some of its magic.

I've been a fan of ATX Television Festival since its first year (or season, as these wonderful TV nerds call it), but this year's festival, kicking off last Thursday through yesterday, was by far its biggest and best yet. After four days of big screen TV bliss, I'm buzzing about a dozen different shows - new series I want to try or beloved old shows that I'm feeling a yen to revisit. That's the magic of this festival - it's run entirely by people who love TV for people who love TV, and its intimate size makes it feel like a TV viewing party amongst friends rather than a big, impersonal con. 

Canceled Too Soon: Bunheads

(photos by Waytao Shing)

I've made no secret of my love for Bunheads, the ABC Family series by Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, starring Broadway queen Sutton Foster, Gilmore Girls' matriarch Kelly Bishop and Friday Night Lights' Stacey Oristano. With Sherman-Palladino secured for the Gilmore Girls reunion, ATX scheduled a Canceled Too Soon clip show (curated by Sherman-Palladino herself) and Q&A with the showrunner and three stars, and it was a moving, long-overdue goodbye to a brilliant, hilarious, completely unusual and really important show that was given only eighteen episodes and an unceremonious canceling after months of waffling by the network. Every clip broke my heart, because every clip was a reminder of what a special, fleeting gift we had in this beautiful show. 

Highlights from the Q&A, mostly by the fast-talking and foul-mouthed Sherman-Palladino, my hero. Every time she said something shocking or raunchy, which was a lot, Bishop, Oristano and Foster would giggle:

Amy Sherman-Palladino - "This show is one of the least planned things of my life." Regarding "Dame" Sutton Foster: "Yes, I can say she's a fucking dame...She is, what we say in the biz, THE BEST." And Kelly Bishop is "Countess Kelly." Regarding ABC Family: "It's not a real network...The thing about Bunheads is that we had no money. Like, NO money." And finally, as no surprise to anyone, why she writes these wonderful female stories: "I think women are fascinating." She didn't bring any other choices to the network for the characters of Michelle, Fanny and Truly: it was Foster, Bishop, Oristano or bust. And when it came to casting the kids - Boo, Sasha, Ginny and Melanie - she didn't bring many choices either, because finding young actresses and dancers of that caliber was the hardest part of the casting process. 

Sutton Foster - "I wasn't planning on doing TV, but Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time...Doing this show was one of the greatest experiences of my life." She and Kelly Bishop were both in Anything Goes on Broadway, and Foster stalked Bishop like a superfan. Sherman-Palladino told "the children at ABC Family to stop playing jacks" and "when you're in New York, after you leave the m&m store, go see Anything Goes because [Foster's] the character," and of course she knew she had to have Kelly Bishop back. 

Kelly Bishop - As to what drew her to the character of Fanny, "What it was for me, and always will be as long as this old body is kicking, is that if Amy Sherman-Palladino wants me to be in a project, I will be there." Of growing up a dancer, "Ballet was my whole life." She loves The Red Shoes and always has, and a psychic told her she saw a small woman standing behind her holding a pair of red shoes. A week later, she was offered the role of Fanny, and when she got to costume, she learned that Fanny always wears red shoes. 

Stacey Oristano - "I'm a tap dancer." Here, Sherman-Palladino broke in, "YES! Thank you. Not a fucking word." When she found out after the show was canceled that Oristano can tap, she was so angry she didn't have Truly and Michelle have a tap-off. Oristano: "How do you stand next to Sutton Foster and say 'by the way, I tap a little'?" And of what makes Bunheads so important: "It was a show about really strong women, written by women, produced by women and we had this really amazing woman DP [Anette Haellmigk], and that just doesn't happen enough. But we did it."

All four women praised the young actresses of the show, particularly Kaitlyn Jenkins (Boo), Julia Goldani Telles (Sasha), Bailey De Young (Ginny) and Emma Dumont (Melanie). And their warmest praise was probably reserved for "magic" and "miracle worker" choreographer Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks, who threw together the incredible "Istanbul" dance in 12 hours. Like many of the dances (including the beautiful "For Fanny"), it was filmed in one shot. The actors, in addition to learning their formidable lines (that lightning fast ASP dialogue!) and blocking, had to learn the dances with an unbelievably fast turn-around. 

The best thing about Bunheads is also the best thing about Gilmore Girls. As Sherman-Palladino put it, "You build your family." In eighteen too-brief episodes, Bunheads built a family I will love forever. This was a remarkably special screening, and it ended the way it should: with the farewell dance organized by Sherman-Palladino and Gilmore Girls' Jackson Douglas, a labor of love put together to say goodbye to this show when ABC Family never gave it the chance to do that.

(If you're a die-hard Bunheads fan and want more scoop, we'll have video from the Q&A at the Forever Young Adult recap on Wednesday.)


(photos by Waytao Shing)

I got to intro the Hannibal screening and stand on stage with genius Bryan Fuller and give away this gorgeous tartare-colored exclusive Mondo vinyl of Brian Reitzell’s amazing score, so that was pretty swell. Even sweller: watching the first two episodes of Hannibal Season 3 on the big screen, absorbing every astonishing visual detail and that world-class sound design in an Alamo theater. I can't WAIT for you guys to see the second episode, "Primavera." Read my review of the first episode, "Antipasto," here

Highlights from Fuller's Q&A: 

Of how much Thomas Harris' books are leading the events onscreen, "A lot. We just shifted around the characters...I watch the show and I hear so much of Thomas Harris' dialogue onscreen, even parts that weren't supposed to be dialogue, but his prose is so beautiful [we use it as dialogue]."

Of that gorgeous scene with Gillian Anderson at the train station: "We color-timed the train to match her coat."

On the shifting aspect ratio of the premiere: "I love playing in aspect ratio. It happens a lot in horror - John Carpenter's stuff is always very wide, Rosemary's Baby is very wide-screen, and the aspect ratio is very tense." Much of Season 3 is meant to be inspired by Robert Wise's The Haunting, both in aspect ratio and sound design. 

Which of Hannibal's dishes has looked the tastiest to Fuller? "The bacon-wrapped heart in Season 1 actually looked the most delicious." 

His relationship with NBC's Standards & Practices is the best he's ever had. His only note on the scene where Mason Verger feeds his face to a dog? "'Turn down the red a little.'...She [the S&P contact] just couldn't be more supportive."

On the beauty of Hannibal's gore: "It's looking at the horrible through [Hannibal's] eyes, and he sees everything so beautifully." Of where the cannibal's headed emotionally this season: "Where he is is he's got a broken heart...there's an element to him that's a little bit reckless because he wants to be seen...All the cards are on the table because everyone knows who Hannibal is now."

Of the third season's tone: "We're increasingly more black and humorous this season...Gillian is laugh out loud funny in episode 6." Of its newness: "Everybody has a new dance partner in this storytelling, and it freshens it up...So when Will and Hannibal reunite later in the season, it feels earned." Of its look: "I tell every director: you are not making television. You are making a pretentious art film...If you shake that camera, I will stabilize it in post."

Episode 9 will give us a flashback to Abigail's life with Hannibal. The Red Dragon arc will begin in Episode 8, not the premiere as earlier reported, because "previously they've told this story in two hours. We can surely tell it in six." We'll meet Francis Dolarhyde "as he's going insane." As for his relationship with Reba, as in the book, "You're rooting for this relationship." 

Of the potential for next season: "Season 4 would be our greatest departure if we get to tell that story, and if not,them  maybe we could do a movie, and if not, we could do a comic, and if not, I'll tell you about it at a convention somewhere." Please let him tell that story.


COMING: more thorough, detailed recaps of the Gilmore Girls and Queer as Folk reunions, including our own video and images, because both panels were major, life-affirming events that deserve their own posts. And another recap of the Hep Alien reunion and Dawson's Creek pilot reading staged by Kevin Williamson and starring Mae Whitman as Dawson. Gosh, I miss this festival already.