TV Insights, Observations and Obsessions from the NYTVF
Check out our Q&A series with Fest Founder Terence Gray (and others), designed to provide submitting artists and TV fans with insight to the current development landscape. If you're thinking about submitting to the NYTVF, this is for you.
For our ongoing Television Development series, the NYTVF sat down with multi-year NYTVF Alum Nick Armstrong. Nick is an actor, improviser, director, and writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV, Nick is currently on AMC's Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Grey's Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Raising Hope.
Though primarily focused on comedy (training at The Groundlings and iO West), Nick entered into unscripted/reality/doc development with A&E in 2012 through the NYTVF Pitch program. Recently, we talked with Nick about his new transition from comedy to unscripted, where he sees similarities between those two worlds, and how to get a start working in television.
You recently worked with A&E on an unscripted television series. How did that come about?
It's kind of funny really. My writing partner, Trevor Tevel, and I were being considered for the [NYTVF-]Comedy Central pilot competition, so we knew we were going to go out to New York, and I saw that the NYTVF had some unscripted competitions too. We said to ourselves "what the heck – let's give it a try, since we're going to be out there." We saw that the Bio Channel was looking for a specific type of show, so we wrote a treatment for that and submitted it. Well, we got a meeting, got the development deal, and it was bumped up from Bio to A&E.
What was it like working with the network?
It was such a learning experience. I'd have to say working with A&E was a blast, and they were so supportive. They believed in us and let us do the show we wanted to do. It was really nice to have that support and confidence going in.
Obviously, you've done a lot of work in comedy. What was it like moving your scripted comedy sensibilities into the unscripted genre? Do you feel the two genres are mutually exclusive?
Honestly, it's pretty much the same, I'd say. You still have to have great characters and an engaging story. The audience has to like you and want to tune into you. Oh, and it still has to be funny too. I almost like unscripted better, because, as an improviser, it's a fun, raw, and a more real approach to comedy that I appreciate.
We've talked a lot about Unscripted Comedy Formats - why do you think comedy works so well in unscripted?
Because with comedy the audience relates to you, and, at the end of the day, people want to see characters go through situations, and that's what unscripted is: ordinary people going through real life situations. It's situational comedy on the spot. People can relate to that, and they can sit back and laugh.
You're working with Gurney Productions (which produces shows like Duck Dynasty). What has that relationship been like, and can you tell us a little bit about working with a larger company?
Gurney has been tremendous. They basically mentored us through this whole project, and we've become great partners with them. Working with a bigger company is amazing. They know what they're doing and they're great at it. They know how to sell a show and package it. That's the biggest thing I learned. They know what every network wants, but they're willing to take a risk and give people something that hasn't been done yet. They aren't so much "here's what you have already." They're much more "this is where we're going." It was a perfect match.
What are you watching on TV right now? Where do you see innovative programming?
Scripted I watch The Walking Dead, Modern Family, Sherlock, and Downton Abbey. Unscripted I watch Pawn Stars, Kitchen Nightmares, Mythbusters, and Ghost Hunters. The great thing about TV is that there is more of it than ever! With streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, there are going to be even more opportunities for artists like ourselves to make even more content and get more chances to make great TV, scripted and unscripted.
Where do your ideas for television shows come from?
Real life, plain and simple. You always hear "write what you know," and I truly believe in that.
What advice do you have for producers looking to create an unscripted character tape or sizzle? What should they focus on, and what do you feel can be left out?
Character, character, character. The show is one thing – where are my act breaks, technical stuff – but that all doesn't mean anything if you don't have engaging characters that people want to tune in to [see] every week. Plot doesn't matter so much; spend less time on that and more time on creating great, rich, and lasting characters.
Do you have any advice for artists who are considering submitting to the NYTVF in 2014?
This festival is a no-brainer! It has and will continue to be a festival that helps independent artists grow and get in front of the right people.
You can catch Nick performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed, genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA's longest and critically acclaimed Harold team King Ten. Nick has taught improv at iO West and Westside Comedy Theatre and has done workshops all over the country. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia, an improv retreat for grown ups. For more information on Nick you can visit www.nickarmstrong.com or www.improvutopia.com.
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