Thrones team helps UK web series onto Oprah network

By Kevin Core
You and Yours, Radio 4

Image caption,
Oprah Winfrey called the programme "joyously heart-opening"

A self-funded internet television series about a group of young adults in Brighton with learning disabilities is to premiere on the Oprah Winfrey Network after support from the producers of Game of Thrones.

The programme, The Specials, started online in 2009 after failing to gain a UK TV commission.

The creators, Katy Lock and Daniel May, told Radio 4's You & Yours that a web award led to an unexpected email from HBO's former head, Carolyn Strauss.

The programme will now air on the Oprah Winfrey Network on 7 September.

The series, first featured on You and Yours in 2009, charts the lives of Hilly, Megan, Sam, and Lucy, who have Down's Syndrome, and Lewis who has William's Syndrome.

The programme follows them as they work, study and socialise.

Image caption,
Sam, Hilly, Lucy, Lewis and Megan

Lock and May funded a web series after a pitch to TV channels in the UK fell through.

The show could now reach 85 million homes in the US and funding has been provided for a second series.

May said the idea to create an online version came to them in the pub after Lock had been unable to secure a commission.

The first season won a Webby Award which was collected by the cast in New York in 2010.

But Lock and May, who had been funding episodes themselves, ran out of cash for the project.

The pair were in Brighton to discuss a second season in 2011 when an unexpected email arrived from Strauss, who had commissioned The Wire and The Sopranos.

She had seen the programme along with the Game of Thrones creator, DB Weiss, and wanted to meet Lock and May to push the programme to a bigger audience.

"We were a bit squiffy on the train back," said May.

"I thought 'are we reading this right'?"

"She said she loved The Specials and took it to Oprah Winfrey. Then a few months later we got an email from Oprah saying 'It's go go go for season two!'

"We are making this on a shoestring in our spare bedroom and to have these incredible people wanting to be part of it is amazing."

The programme makers have not sold rights and retain control of the series. Potential profits are shared between the housemates and creators.

The web series has been turned into six half hours and the American backers funded a second series which will also air on September 7.

"I like to be a TV star because I like to be famous," said 27-year-old Sam, who appears in the show, who added that "it's exciting".

"My favourite bit of filming was going on holiday. We filmed disco and karaoke and parties."

May said the show had found its way onto the Oprah Network "because it's a really honest TV programme".

"They care for each other going through the same ups and downs as everyone else at that stage in life.

"It's a very human show and that's something that's a bit different to a lot of the shows around at the moment."

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