Megan McLachlan traveled to Atlanta for SCAD TVfest, which celebrates the best in television arts.
SCAD TVfest had a lot of fresh faces at its annual festival showcasing the best in television. On the second day of the fest, HBO’s Emmy-winning series We’re Here shared exclusive clips featuring the four new drag queens joining the cast, and Apple TV+ premiered their ambitious take on the Lincoln assassination, Manhunt. But the festival was not without its familiar faces, honoring Kelsey Grammer with a Legends of Television Award.
We’re Here Season 4
At the We’re Here Season 4 First Look Conversation, show creators Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren were joined by showrunner Peter LoGreco and their cast of new drag queens, including Jaida Essence Hall, Latrice Royale, Priyanka, and Sasha Velour.
“We have built three amazing seasons where we would typically feature one episode per city,” said Ingram, “but in this new format, a lot of fans have asked us, ‘How did you pull this off?'”
For this upcoming season, the queens stayed in Tennessee and Oklahoma for three episodes each, proving they’re here, they’re queer, and they’re sticking around for a while.
“What’s been really amazing is that we’re really steeped in the town itself, the political narrative and the anti-LGBTQ bills,” continued Ingram, “and we meet all of this information head-on. We had a lot more time to really let the community react to our presence.”
In the exclusive clips screened during the First Look presentation, the queens are in danger of being arrested for dressing in drag at the Capitol building in Tennessee.
“I think the craziest part of the experience is that you go into a space you would think would be safe for anybody to be at and then to be made to feel ostracized was odd to me,” said Jaida Essence Hall.
“I was like dammit, I’m from Canada,” said Priyanka. “I have a work visa. If I get arrested, I’ll never be able to work in America again. I was like, ‘This is a fucked-up battle. Here I come, fuckers!'”
Another clip introduces Norm, a gay drag performer whose life was threatened when he decided to run for political office.
“I haven’t experienced exactly what Norm has, but we’re up against the same critiques and misinformation every day,” said Sasha Velour. “There’s also this feeling that we’re in it together—the joy we can get from each other and the moments of laughter. Because even though this is a horrible thing to happen, the story is also kind of ridiculous and fabulous and celebrates the silliness of drag. It really is family-friendly and for everyone.”
Apple TV+’s Manhunt Premiere
Apple TV+’s upcoming Manhunt limited series takes a look at the repercussions of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, with Hamish Linklater as Lincoln. This historical period, so often told from the white male point of view, has a female showrunner in Monica Beletsky.
“I like to call us the women behind Manhunt,” said Beletsky as she stood on the SCAD red carpet with actress Lovie Simone, who plays Mary Simms. “I do feel like with limited series, female showrunners are rare. To have the opportunity to tell the story with this amount of scope was an incredible opportunity Apple gave me. Very few filmmakers who are women get to work at that level, so it’s been an honor and a challenge and a dream.”
Simone’s Mary Simms is based on a real-life character who doesn’t usually get a lot of recognition in this part of history.
“Mary Simms was the first African American woman to testify against a slaveowner,” said Simone, “so she did have a big place in the case against Lincoln because she did work for Dr. Mudd, who did help out with a lot of the other Confederates.”
“I think it’s a story a lot of people think they might know, but [Manhunt is] told as it did happen,” said Linklater. “It was a hair-raising moment for the country. And it’s a real nailbiter and a propulsive thriller.”
Other cast members in attendance at the fest included Will Harrison, Brandon Flynn, Matt Walsh, and Anthony Boyle, who plays John Wilkes Booth.
“We were filming in Savannah where there are statues of Confederate soldiers ten minutes from our hotel,” said Boyle. “We were filming on plantations. We were deep in the recesses of a really dark time in our country’s history, so it felt very current and present for us.”
Kelsey Grammer – Legend of Television
The 2023 Frasier reboot only proves the staying power of a character that’s been around for nearly 40 years. And while Legend of Television recipient Kelsey Grammer might know Dr. Frasier Crane inside and out, he says that he separates himself from his character.
“I’ve never thought that I knew Frasier better than myself,” said Grammer. “There’s an old story about an actor who walks off stage after doing a sword fight with you and says, ‘Oh my god, I completely disappeared out there.’ Well, that’s a guy who needs to go to therapy or get arrested. You can’t just disappear out there; if you do, you’re a dangerous person on stage—you’re not an actor. You always have to be aware of the fact that there’s a difference between you and the character you play.”
The cast of the Frasier reboot is now a part of this television legacy, something actress Toks Olagundoe, who plays Professor Olivia Finch, was and is very aware of.
“I grew up watching all of the shows,” said Olagundoe. “I always wanted to work for James Burrows. Frasier is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I found out I got the job the day before the table read. It was really exhilarating but I was terrified. It’s been a lot of fun. They’re the best folks I’ve ever worked with.”
It’s also very rare to have someone with so much television experience able to steer the ship.
“The biggest thing for us is having Kelsey [at the center of the show], which is both deeply intimidating but also very comforting,” said Jack Cutmore-Scott who plays his son, Frederick. “Before Frasier, he created this character and owned this character through Cheers and then had his own spin-off, and this is kind of a spin-off of that spin-off. He knows this character inside out. With a lot of shows, it’s really scary when you’re starting out because no one really knows what it should feel and look and sound like, but Kelsey does, so if we have any doubt, we look to him.”
SCAD TVFest runs February 7 through February 10.