EXCLUSIVES

Robert Rodriguez and TV Programming AT SXSW

South By Southwest again attracted thousands with its cutting-edge selection of music,
new media and film. This year a new section also featured TV content, reflecting the boundless growth of episodic fiction. Among the programs featured was From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, which director Robert Rodriguez has produced as flagship program for his new network El Rey. The HFPA's Katherine Tulich met with the Austin native and
filed this report.

AUTSIN, TX - Dressed in jeans, trademark weather beaten leather jacket and cadet cap, Robert Rodriguez may not quite look like the next TV mogul, but with the launch of his new network El Rey, he has big plans to shake up the TV landscape.

The genre bending film maker (Spy Kids, Sin City, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D, Grindhouse and Machete among his many films) is now setting his sights on the small screen with the launch of his new show From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, El Rey’s first original scripted series. The 45-year-old Austin native, and son of Mexican American parents, premiered the show at the SXSW Film Festival. “I have had a long relationship to the festival,” he says. “It was around the time I was making El Mariachi that the festival added it’s film component. It’s grown from what was a regional music festival to now a world recognized festival covering new media, movies, television and music.”

This year’s festival saw the introduction of a category called Episodic which premiered six TV shows including Rodriguez’ From Dusk til Dawn, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, about early computer hackers in the 80s, Showtime’s hip horror entry, Penny Dreadful, Hulu’s web series, quirky supernatural comedy Deadbeat, and HBO’s Silicon Valley, creator Mike Judge’s humorous take on the geek techs of Northern California. “When we premiered Lena Dunham’s Girls here two years ago, it was an enormous success and television started taking notice. We had so many submissions this year and so many show that had the original voices we were looking for that we decided to create a whole strand of programming.” says Head of SXSW Film, Janet Pierson. “SXSW has an incredibly desirable demo and it’s a great audience to get in front of because they are the early adopters who can really make an impact.” Rodriguez agrees. “Everyone’s eyeballs are on what’s shown here,” he says. “You can really make worldwide noise right out of SXSW.”

Rodriguez screened the pilot episode of From Dusk Till Dawn to an enthusiastic festival crowd. This supernatural crime series that pits bank robbers, Texas Rangers and a viperous den of vampires is a reimagining of his 1996 cult classic of the same name, which was written by Robert Kurtzman and Quentin Tarantino and had a cast including George Clooney and Salma Hayek. The new series stars D.J Cotrona and Zane Holtz as the murderous Gecko brothers and Don Johnson and Jesse Garcia as the Texas Rangers. “From Dusk till Dawn was one of the early films I did with Quentin Tarantino and still the one people love and cite as one of their favorites. I also felt it had an expandable story that could extend into a television series,” says Rodriguez, who has directed four of the first eight episodes. “There are familiar scenes from the movie but then it immediately goes into different directions. There are new characters and different fates of the characters. If you are familiar with the movie it will be a real surprise to see what happens in the series.

Rodriguez is hoping From Dusk Till Dawn will provide the perfect teaser to his new network which will include a mix of reality, scripted and animated series as well as popular cult TV and movies. “I needed a premier program to kick off the network and a title that will draw people to discover the network,” he says. El Rey is one of four new channels to be carried by Comcast, the country’s largest cable company fulfilling a promise to carry more minority-owned stations, after seeking federal approval for its majority acquisition of NBC Universal. Other stations include ones headed up by Magic Johnson and Sean “Diddy” Combs. El Rey is set to soon reach 40 million homes in the US. “I just felt like we needed something like this. There is no English language Hispanic channel that shows cool programing for the largest minority group in the US,” says Rodriguez. “But it’s still a network anyone can watch. It is like my movies, Spy Kids or Desperado. You don't think of them as Hispanic movies because anyone can enjoy them.”

He also insists the network (which won’t be required to post ratings for a year) won’t be just a fan boys hit list. Rodriguez is planning broader programming including his next original series Matador created by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Sleepy Hollow, Fringe). It focuses on a globetrotting soccer champ and playboy who is secretly a top-secret CIA operative. It’s set for a July debut.

“I want this network to also be a voice for new filmmakers and voices. I like to call it the People’s Network,” says Rodriguez.

Katherine Tulich