When we think of television production, we usually think of studios in California, but that's changing, thanks in part to the work of Terence Gray and his New York Television Festival, which is becoming more and more influential in the television industry. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 profile.
Terence Gray is the creator and executive director of the annual New York Television Festival, where anyone can pursue an idea for a TV series and dream.
"It's the Golden Age of television, and you guys are at the top of the emerging producers and writers and artists in this country," Gray said to a group at his festival.
Gray is a matchmaker, uniting writers, producers, networks, web distributors and talent agencies in the hopes of creating new television shows.
He says that in 2013, the festival received more than 3,000 submissions.
"You can, once you're in process of curating the best pilots, not watch regular television for a while," Gray says.
The list of festival participants reads like a who's who. Talent agencies like William Morris and CAA. Networks like NBC, ABC, MTV and Lifetime.
There are appearances by show creators, like Damon Lindelof of "Lost" and Mitch Hurwitz of "Arrested Development," and premieres of shows that already have network deals, like "Modern Family."
Gray claims that the festival offers an even playing field, that the unknown writer has as good a chance as the writer with a professional pedigree.
Still, he adds, "I'm not saying it doesn't occasionally creep in that, 'Oh, this guy's a writer on The Daily Show,' whatever. Yeah, that can be very exciting and often is good material. Not that that's the everyday thing, but I think the material should always be viewed, like we're reading a script for FOX or somebody else, it should be viewed on the script, it should be viewed on the pilot, and then say, 'Oh, who is that?'"
The idea for the festival was born out of Gray's own experience in the '90s and the early 2000s. As a writer on "The Man Show" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Gray had more than a few pitch meetings with television executives.
"Ultimately, it would be on the page, and there would be an executive on the other side with a stack of treatments, or scripts, that was this high, and I thought, 'Well, you know, how are we going to break through this?'" he says. "There should be a platform like Sundance, but for television."
He cobbled together the first festival in the Meatpacking District in 2005.
Initially, Gray's idea was met with some skepticism.
"'We're not interested in this. The people that make television are already sort of in television, and they're already sort of doing it, and the idea that someone would do that independently outside of the studio system doesn't really seem practical,'" he says. "And at the time, they weren't incorrect."
Gray says that the festival was propelled by the growth of independent producers making so-called "sizzle tapes" and the emergence of YouTube.
"For the first time, even producers and writers on the scripted side said, 'If I make something, I have a place to distribute it.' That was a brand new concept," Gray says.
"If you add to that the idea that with digital cameras, with Final Cut, you can edit online, all of a sudden, you could bring in a comedy pilot for a couple hundred or couple of grand as opposed to $250-, $500,000 for an independent film. This was a brand new thing."
Gray grew up on Long Island, watching a lot of television, with a special affection for NBC's vaunted Thursday night lineup in the '80s, including "The Cosby Show," "Cheers" and "Family Ties."
At Catholic University in Washington D.C., he found his passion on stage.
"My senior year, they created an open lab and said, 'If you want to try to do some stuff, if you want to mount original things, you should go and do it,'" Gray says. "And I thought, 'This is my opportunity.'"
He came back to New York and put on his first show, working during the day for his stockbroker brother.
"I basically ran and got his lunch and answered phones, and did all that for sort of years," Gray says. "And he was really kind and would let me go out and audition."
He wrote sitcoms for the stage at the West Bank Café.
"You never know if you're in New York, and people say they will come down and see a show whether or not something else comes up, but the good fortune was that my friend John Rosen, who was at William Morris, ended up coming down and really enjoyed the show," Gray says. "We hit it off, and that really sort of propelled my career forward."
It propelled him to a writing job on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," which helped his professional and personal lives.
"Being part of a show that was getting 35, 40 million people a night, going to a cocktail party after work, and everyone saying, 'What do you do, what do you do?' and I say, 'Oh, hey, I'm a writer for "Millionaire,"' that was a great opening line to get people interested in what you were doing," Gray says.
After "Millionaire," Gray and some writer friends tried to get people interested in a pop culture board game called Pop Smarts. Gray says it enjoyed some success and bar game status.
"The whole idea behind the game is, you are connecting the same people that are in a movie, and at what point can you name that movie," he says.
His life, though, is mostly The Festival. His fiancee, Erin, also works for the Festival.
The Festival has grown, with events in Los Angeles, Chicago and London, but there's a reason why it's based here.
"This is where television started, and so I always view New York as the best emerging talent," Gray says.
"People are not filming on a studio. Often, they're filming at location-based or on the street for a New York pilot, and I think it has that energy that New York is a character."
Gray cultivated a strong relationship with the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, and its commissioner during the Bloomberg administration, Katherine Oliver. For three years, Gray hosted a program on the city's television station, NYCTV.
At the heart of Gray's drive to make the Festival a success is his goal of creating a new, more democratic television community.
"Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your development life," Gray said to a group at his festival. "Take advantage of it."
"We're giving people a chance," he says. "and that's sort of what I wanted years ago, was a path, and to have been part of creating that path is something I'm proud of."