Zach Anner: Travel host with cerebral palsy moves from TV to web
The great thing about the web is that people who may never have made it on mainstream TV can now find their voice and get attention. The web allows specialist interest shows to exist, shows that would never have been commissioned for old media.
Zach Anner is a disabled person who is building his celebrity online. He's a charismatic 27 year old wheelchair user with cerebral palsy from Buffalo, New York, who loves travelling and making films.
He was studying media at university in Texas when an idea arose that would see him indulging both of these passions.
His mother heard about a new reality TV series where the winner would get to present a show on Oprah Winfrey's then new television network, OWN. Oprah set up the channel in 2010 after leaving her famous daily programme, and its opening got a lot of media attention. She convinced Zach he should audition.
He created a comedy trailer for a disability travel show as an audition piece which he put up on YouTUbe. It was called Rolling with Zach Anner and he performed it entirely in drag. The video went viral, and a hugely successful online voting campaign driven by users of social networks YouTube and Reddit, helped to ensure he won the prize.
After six shows, however, the programme was cancelled.
On the latest Ouch! Talk Show, Zach explains candidly and succinctly why be believes the show ended.
"[OWN] was a very new network at the time, still trying to find what its voice was, and basically, the bottom line is, nobody watched it."
Though his cable show came to an end, his wanderlust didn't. Undeterred by those low viewing figures on mainstream television, Zach now concentrates on where the supporters of his original audition tape congregate - the internet.
In so doing, he joins other disability shows on the web like How's Your News, The Kids of Widney High and UK project The Specials - all of whom use video sharing sights to reach their target audience.
YouTube is the home of his new travel show, Riding Shotgun with Zach Anner, but social network Reddit, which is the show's main supporter, feeds into the production as Zach explains: "We let the internet decide where they sent us and what they wanted us to do and we did whatever they wanted, so we got into some pretty crazy stuff."
Guided by fans, Zach ate a medieval banquet in Montreal, became the king of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and stayed at one of Boston's more dubious hotels. Other suggested cities, Zach recalls, didn't quite make the list.
"There was a little bit of a push to send me to Kodiak, Alaska, but I think that was just what they call trolling on the internet. And then there were people who were like, I'm from Omaha, don't come here.
"For the most part, people had a lot of love for their home towns. And that was part of the appeal too because when we went to these places, we were going to be hanging out with strangers and living their perfect day in their cities."
So, can a niche appeal disability travel show thrive online? Finance is a challenge for internet broadcasters and when asked how he intends to generate money from the series, Zach gives a comic pleading response: "Oh gosh! Do you have any ideas on how to do that? Because we didn't really think about that when we started. We just wanted to make something that we were really, really proud of."
You can hear the full interview with Zach Anner on November's Ouch! Talk Show, where he discusses the trouble with being considered inspirational, the perils of air travel for wheelchair users and his love for the toilet seat that he takes everywhere with him.