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Analysis: The BBC & Netflix Unveiled Their Landmark Five-Year Disability Partnership With Fanfare In 2021, But Two-And-A-Half Years Later, The Industry Is Questioning Where The Shows Are

EXCLUSIVE: At the 2021 Edinburgh TV Festival, the BBC and Netflix unveiled what the pair described as a landmark five-year disability partnership that would unearth a new generation of shows helmed by disabled talent.

But more than half of the partnership’s five-year time period has now elapsed and not one show has been revealed.

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In recent months, sources from the UK drama and disabled TV communities have begun questioning the partnership, getting in touch with Deadline unprompted to query why a tie-up that was unveiled with such fanfare has so far failed to bear fruit.

“It’s slightly bizarre,” said one professional connected with disability programs. “I’ve heard nothing from anyone to be honest. No one can get a definitive answer.”

The partnership came in the wake of a blistering Edinburgh TV Festival MacTaggart broadside from Help writer Jack Thorne, who slammed the UK TV industry for “totally and utterly” failing disabled people.

The BBC and Netflix then unveiled a creative brief led by A24’s Piers Wenger, who ran drama for the national broadcaster at the time, and Anne Mensah, who oversees UK content for Netflix.

They said they wanted to “firmly place the shows alongside our most talked about original dramas.” “Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creators are some of the least well represented groups on television in the UK and, put simply, we want to change that fact,” Mensah said at the time. “Together with the BBC, we hope to help these creators tell the biggest and boldest stories and speak to the broadest possible British and global audience.”

The partnership was the first of its kind between a UK broadcaster and global streamer and both said they had equal buy in, although submissions would go via the BBC and the brief would be properly introduced to producers and creatives in a series of webinars. Producers must have had a BBC TV commission in the last three years and a TV commission for original content from another major UK broadcaster or streamer during the same timeframe.

Development hell

In summer 2022, the BBC and Netflix said they had shows in development via the partnership and issued a joint statement saying they are in it for “the long haul.” Eighteen months later, there is still no word on greenlights.

“It feels as though there is no clarity as yet,” said another insider from the community. “This is such poor form after all those webinars.”

The BBC told us that “several dramas are in funded development under this partnership and we hope we’ll be in a position to commission one of them soon.” Paid developments did not all start up two-and-a-half years ago and insiders have been quick to stress the length of time it takes to get shows from script to greenlight.

Deadline understands a series from Genevieve Barr, who co-wrote The Accident with Thorne, has been one of those gestating. Talented writer-actor Barr is currently forging an irreverent mystery thriller, I.D., for Channel 4 with Sex Education producer Eleven.

Sources questioned the health of the BBC’s relationship with Netflix given the lack of publicity given to the partnership in recent months. Separate from Netflix, the BBC has greenlit a number of high-profile projects from disabled talent since the brief was launched, including We Might Regret This from The Office producer Roughcut and Village Roadshow Television, Reunion from deaf scribe William Mager and Warp Films and The Rapture starring Years and Years’ Ruth Madeley.

Netflix shows to feature disabled talent include Special, Deaf U, All the Lights We Cannot See and Sex Education. The streamer’s recent documentary talent fund winners, meanwhile, included a project about renowned deaf DJ Troi Lee.

Sources also pointed to Netflix’s stepping back from the Thorne-led TV Access Project (TAP), which launched the Edinburgh after the BBC/Netflix brief and is aiming for disability inclusion to be completely integrated into standard industry practice by 2030. According to Broadcast Magazine, Netflix downgraded itself last year from frontline to associate member after indicating that it was finding it difficult to commit to TAP’s proposals. We understand Netflix remains committed to TAP’s goals and is providing financial support but felt the top-down nature of TAP’s approach was at odds with how the streamer works. TAP frontline members include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, Paramount, Disney+ and Prime Video.

“Netflix stepping back from TAP didn’t give me a huge amount of confidence and this has been compounded by nothing being commissioned from the joint drama initiative,” said the first professional.

The streamer will unveil half a dozen shows later today at a See What’s Next event in London, including a thriller from The Mothership writer-director Matt Charman starring Suranne Jones.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC is committed to improving representation of deaf, disabled and neurodivergent talent both on and off screen. In scripted we’ve recently announced Reunion by William Mager; and But When We Dance by Paul Mayhew Archer and Bryony Kimmings’ The Rapture, starring Ruth Madeley, are coming up. Positive and authentic portrayal is critical and features across a range of shows including EastEnders, Silent Witness, Call the Midwife, Doctor Who, Waterloo Road, His Dark Materials, Best Interests and Sherwood; and in comedies Jerk, Dinosaur and We Might Regret This.”

She added: “Elsewhere across the BBC, disabled presenters and contributors feature in Strictly Come Dancing, The Traitors, Race Across the World, Rose Ayling-Ellis: Signs for Change, Tommy Jessop Goes to Hollywood and Liz Carr on assisted suicide. There are currently several dramas in funded development under this partnership and we hope we’ll be in a position to commission one of them soon. Meanwhile the BBC’s own Writers’ Access Group is dedicated to strengthening the talent pipeline alongside the BBC’s Elevate scheme.”

Netflix acknowledged shows are in development for the partnership but declined further comment.

Project Diamond data recently found that the proportion of disabled writers and directors on UK TV shows had doubled over the past five years, although it still sits well below national average.

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