The ATX Television Festival started its first full day of 2015 programming on Friday with a few packed panels (if you arrived late, you likely didn’t get in to see “Bunheads” or “Brooklyn 99″ panels) and a well-received screening of Netflix’s “Gracie and Frank” with co-creator Marta Kauffman.
Kauffman, who is known for her work on HBO’s “Dream On” and most notably as the co-creator of “Friends,” discussed how the show, which stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, came together and how working for Netflix has been different from doing network television.
Most notably, she said, the lack of format restrictions on Netflix have allowed her new show — about two women whose husbands (played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson), late in life, have fallen in love with each other and left them.
The entire 13-episode first season of the show is already on Netflix, but the pilot appeared to be new to a lot of the audience, who gave the comedy its laughs, if not riotous applause when it concluded.
Kauffman said that the show came about when she was told that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were both interested in doing a television show and when she assumed they were talking about doing one together. 20 minutes after floating that idea, she said, they both signed on.
It was not a tough sell to Netflix, she said, based on its two stars. “Who doesn’t want Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin on their network?” she said.
The biggest advantage of Netflix, she said, is storytelling time. “On a network, you don’t get 30 minutes. You get 20 minutes. You can’t tell a deep story that way; you can only tell the jokes,” she said. “You can do different kinds of jokes on a single-camera show (on a network), but it’s still not gonna dig deep.”
She offered a few juicy tidbits about her new show, such as working realities; Lily Tomlin will overthink jokes if she’s given too much time and gets tired after 8 hours of work, while Martin Sheen typically insists on having the last line in any scene he’s in.
Kauffman also talked about her time on “Friends,” including an ongoing misogyny issue with an NBC network president, and what she learned about herself as a TV writer. Kauffman said what she brings to the table (apart from “food,” she joked) is humanity, warmth and heart. She said that TV characters “don’t have to be lovable but they have to be people you let into your home, You have to want them there… I bring that tone.”
Before the panel, fest co-founder Caitlin McFarland apologized for some growing pains the festival is experiencing with long lines and fast pass problems, which caused many to stand in lines outside venues in the heat. She said the fest is looking for feedback to make improvements as it keeps growing.