It may all sound very Blue Peter, with sticky back plastic and a “ here’s one I made earlier” but on Lesbian Visibility Day my co-director, Fizz Milton, and I will launch our own television channel.
DIVA Box Office will be Europe’s first television channel solely dedicated to programming for lesbians, bi women and their friends and will launch, in most territories, as a free-to-air and subscription content service.
As a former commissioning editor at Channel 4 and Sky One, during the same years that Fizz was head of genre management and business affairs for drama at the BBC, we have accumulated hundreds of hours between us.
Some of these were LGBT as I was in charge of Dyke TV and similar programming at C4 but since the time we left television around 2004, for our respective childrearing hiatuses, there has been precious little lesbian content on any of the channels we worked for.
In 2004, The L Word hit our screens and lasted six seasons until 2009. Perfect timing for a having babies, as each episode lasted the length of an average breastfeed. Fortuitous if you had the DVD box sets.
That finished in 2009 and then in 2010, the BBC launched the series Lip Service, sandwiched between two Sarah Walters adaptations. Since then? Nada.
Fizz’s twins and my eldest are now at senior school and so there have been four – one American and three British – lesbian specific dramas in their lifetime. Four. I need two hands to count the number of gay male specific dramas on UK television in one year only. Something had to be done.
First of all we made our own lesbian drama series, Different For Girls. We didn’t even try to get it commissioned, just raised the money ourselves via a crowdfunding campaign and some generous friends. We used every room in our own homes and that of our neighbours, cast our children’s friends and dressed the mostly female cast in our wives’ clothes. It was a hit, winning numerous awards and played to packed theatres, at the British Film Institute, and at the Curzon Mayfair, where Denise Welch got a standing ovation for her first on-screen lesbian kiss.
We tried to sell it on to broadcasters, but we were told it was too niche. Hmmm. Wonder if it would have been too niche if it’d been called Different For Guys?
We wanted to show it to the world so, undaunted, we released mini episodes as a taster on YouTube, where it garnered over half a million views despite the absence of any real marketing. It may have been lesbian niche but there was a hunger for it. Clearly the lesbian audiences were as famished as we were after such a dearth of lesbian and bisexual fare.
But one series does not a channel make. So we have joined forces with DIVA Magazine, the world’s most prominent lesbian and bisexual women’s magazine, to create the DIVA Media Group.
Alongside publisher Linda Riley and lawyer Antonia Hardy, we manage a media group that includes Radio DIVA, the DIVA Awards, the DIVA Power List, DIVA stages at Prides in London, Bristol and Liverpool and the new jewel in the content crown, DIVA Box Office.
For the channel’s launch we produced a chat show with the multitalented actress, singer and broadcaster Heather Peace. To call her the British Ellen de Generes would not do her justice as where her show differentiates from Ellen’s talk show is that almost all the guests are lesbian or bisexual. The two-part special has guests as varied as Dancing on Ice star Saara Aalto, writer, director and actor Desiree Akhavan, Bad Girls and Emmerdale star Alicya Eyo and perennial ally to the LGBTQI community Sinitta (with her dog Scarlet). Seeing this show materialise under the stewardship of a mainly lesbian team was revelatory.
We also have a DIVA exclusive with Suranne Jones, featuring the first on-screen interview with the actress discussing her role as serial diarist and seducer of women, Anne Lister, in the BBC/HBO production Gentleman Jack. Being able to provide the series with the press support and reach of DIVA magazine was important for such an iconic portrayal.
Finally, to coincide with the reboot of The L Word, we have revisited a documentary, Power Lesbians, in which Rebecca Loos goes in search of the real lesbian movers and shakers of Hollywood.
This means that on Lesbian Visibility Day we will launch with nearly six hours of specific lesbian and bisexual content, featuring and created by lesbians. However, a television channel, like a newborn baby, needs constant feeding, and so we are looking to commission, co-produce and acquire content that we know is out there on the web, in film festivals and in women’s imaginations.
It may not be on the main channels, but it will be on ours. It may be one we made earlier, but not a second too soon.
Jacquie Lawrence is a producer and commissioning editor, and co-founder of DIVA Box Office, Europe’s first dedicated lesbian digital TV channel