Turn it on

Annual TV blowout returns to help answer a pressing question: ‘What are you watching?’


When Kaily Smith Westbrook and Randi Kleiner first set out to create a festival celebrating the art of independent television in January 2015, they knew they wanted it to be a destination event. 

Even though Westbrook was based in Los Angeles and Kleiner lived in New York, the pair soon discovered that Denver was the perfect location for what would come to be called SeriesFest. It helped that Westbrook was born and raised in the Mile High City. 

“I had never been to Denver before,” Kleiner says. “But I just fell in love with the city and the community. Everybody was willing to help us out. There was just this incredible energy around Denver and the arts. It just felt perfect. Plus it’s the birthplace of cable television. So everything just fell into place.”

SeriesFest has certainly provided a boost to the city, too. This is now the award-winning international festival and nonprofit organization’s ninth season and Kleiner says they typically have between 12,000 and 14,000 attendees. SeriesFest 2023 will be no different during its upcoming run, May 5 through May 10. Especially since they have once again amassed such an impressive lineup of celebrity guests from the world of TV and beyond. 

This year’s action kicks off with world-premiere screenings of CNN’s documentary The 2010s, the Netflix animated comedy Mulligan and Amazon Freevee’s Primo. These will be followed by additional screenings of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Grand Crew, Animal Control, A Small Light and more. Select screenings during the five-day event will be accompanied by panels featuring cast and crew from the productions.

“The thing I love to say about SeriesFest is that there really is something for everyone, whether you’re in the industry or just love television,” says SeriesFest Director of Programming Claire Taylor. 

Stand-up comedy fans will find plenty to love, too, with closing-night performances from headliner Chelsea Handler, Joel McHale, Jay Pharaoh and Adam Ray at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. 

But showcasing the best of new and upcoming TV is what SeriesFest has become known for, as the medium continues to become even more popular and powerful in the streaming age. “That’s the thing that everyone wants to discuss when they walk into a party or dinner,” Taylor says. “‘What are you watching?’ There’s so much out there.” 

SeriesFest co-founders Kaily Smith Westbrook (right) and Randi Kleiner

‘We’re not going anywhere’

For nearly a decade, SeriesFest has prided itself on showcasing the best TV has to offer, before most people have even heard of the shows. “We had the world premiere of Yellowstone. The same with Mr. Robot and New Amsterdam, and then we had panels and Q&As with their creators,” Taylor says. “That’s what’s great about SeriesFest — you get to discover something completely new. We are doing our due diligence, year after year, to bring you the stuff that you should be watching [and] talking about.”

But while SeriesFest gives its attendees the chance to learn about TV’s top new titles, both Kleiner and Taylor also love that it gives people the opportunity to experience our stretch of the Front Range.

“A lot of people fly in for the festival. We love to show off Denver,” Kleiner says. “As the festival has grown, there’s just more places and more fun things to do and show in the city. We’ve also managed to increase our local attendance and the local impact that we have in the community. We continue to do that not only at the festival but year round.”

Playing an integral part in growing the arts scene here has always been a vital part of the SeriesFest mission. “We want to provide professional development opportunities for people looking to get into storytelling,” Taylor says. 

To that end, the organization runs a year-round mentorship program with Shonda Rhimes’ production company Shondaland, connecting emerging women directors with leaders in the field. “Our winner last year is slated to direct, which has happened to a couple of our winners,” Taylor says.

Other programs include the Storytellers Initiative, run in tandem with Janelle Monáe’s Wonderland Productions, which includes readings with professional actors to boost the exposure of a script. This year’s event is for a project called Soul City, which explores the mysterious disappearance of a young girl after a hurricane hits a small town.

“We believe that in order to really make change with diversity, inclusion and equality, we have to start from the beginning in the entertainment industry,” Kleiner says. “We have programs that run from fifth grade all the way through high school and college, and we have a couple of different education programs. Most of those are local to Denver.”

All of which proves that, even as SeriesFest continues to grow and become more international, its local ties will only get stronger. “Denver is our home,” Kleiner says. 

On that note, Taylor adds extra emphasis: “We are not going anywhere.” 

ON SCREEN: SeriesFest 2023. Various times, May 5-10, multiple locations including Sie FilmCenter, Hotel Clio, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver and Morrison. Tickets here.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included references to planned Q&A panels associated with ‘Mulligan,’ ‘Primo,’ ‘Grand Crew’ and ‘A Small Light,’ which have since been cancelled due to the ongoing WGA writers’ strike


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