How a self-funded web series captured 2 Webbys and Oprah’s heart
In 2009, Katy Lock and her boyfriend Daniel May produced a reality web series about five 20-somethings living in the UK. In case that sounds like something you’ve heard before, Hilly, Sam, Lewis, Lucy, and Megan are no ordinary housemates. Dubbed “The Specials,” all five live with intellectual disabilities.
The show’s tagline is “this is our world and we want to share it with you,” and they joyously do in a rare reality series that manages to be real. Just try and watch the familiar trials of their lives and leave uninspired, we dare you.
For Lock and May, the project was a self-described labor of love—the pair funded it themselves and edited the videos in their spare bedroom—and being nominated in 2010 was already a big coup for the tiny DIY team.
After the news of their Webby and People’s Voice wins, The Specials reached a whole new set of viewers, says Producer and Director Katy Lock. “We went from being a niche series largely watched by people within the intellectual disability community to capturing the imagination of a mainstream audience. That had always been our dream.”
The series had received attention in the UK press but Lock still felt like her team was “wandering around in the wilderness, albeit with a devoted hardcore fanbase for company.” Winning two Webbys gave The Specials the mainstream boost they needed.
“Rather than seeing the guys as different, our new audience identified with their experiences as young people in their 20s—from leaving home to sharing a house with your mates, to falling in love and finding a job, all this with a fair amount of partying along the way.”
Katy, Daniel, and the entire cast made the trip to New York to accept their awards, and BBC News followed their journey.
After the show, Katy and Daniel hoped to make a second season of The Specials, but were struggling to fund it. Turns out they had caught the attention of some very influential people. The pair received an unexpected “mindblowing” call from Carolyn Strauss, Executive Producer of Game of Thrones and former Head of Entertainment at HBO. She had been watching the first season with Game of Thrones showrunner D.B. Weiss, and they loved it.
Strauss and Weiss became the show’s Executive Producers and, together with Rosie O’Donnell, brought it to Oprah Winfrey who loved it too, calling it “joyously heart-opening.”
The series was re-edited for television and the team shot the second season they had been dreaming of. In September 2014 both seasons were broadcast on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.
The team is still very much working on The Specials with plans to put both seasons back on the Web for fans in countries that haven’t yet had a chance to watch. As for future projects, there’s a lot they still want to do, including a third season, says Lock. “The Specials was groundbreaking in a lot of ways but we particularly loved the fact that it was a collaboration with the five housemates. We’d like to make more online projects that stay true to this process.”
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