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Russell T. Davies Fought for AIDS Drama 'It's a Sin' — And Won

Russell T. Davies and It's a sin art

Russell T. Davies is a television legend. With projects like Queer as Folk, Dr. Who, Years and Years, and more under his belt, he's a certified writing icon. His latest drama, It's a Sin, is his first to center the AIDS epidemic and is reportedly the first to do so in the U.K. But according to Davies, it didn't come without a lot of no's and some internal push back.

The standout five-part series debuted on Channel 4 in the U.K. Friday and will air on HBO Max in the U.S. beginning sometime in February. But apparently, when Davies originally began pitching the story around back in 2015.

“It’s taking a long time to get on air,” he told PinkNews in an interview. "It was a hard sell, you know. That’s why it went round various channels and was turned down, at least twice if not three times. Genuinely, because it’s about people dying. It’s a tough piece of work. And I can’t sit here now with any guarantee that people will watch it – it’ll be really interesting to know.”

The series follows a group of young adults through the 1980s. They experience the joys and exhilarating highs of London but are forced to confront the AIDS epidemic that is roaring across the Atlantic Ocean and slowly makes its way into London. This makes for a lot of dying which is offset by Davies' supreme writing. The show, which we have viewed, feels both vital and vibrant. But networks didn't originally see the vision.

Davies approached Channel 4 first who turned it down. Then he tried BBC One and ITV. They all said no. But years later, Lee Mason, the commissioning editor of drama at Channel 4 reached back out. Mason had waited for there to be a turnover of staff at the network and with that done, was prepared to execute the project. Still, there were adjustments that had to be made.

Davies could have written hundreds of episodes for It's a Sin which stars Olly Alexander and features cameos by Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Fry. He originally planned for the show to be an eight-part series but Channel 4 wanted only four. Davies argued the project up to five. 

“I told them the fifth episode was about something else and then changed my mind completely and delivered a completely different episode five, and they didn’t get cross, they were very kind," he said. "The show would have been like a ratatatat of deaths. Imagine if there’s one episode missing, it would have been ferocious, you’d have to kind of have five episodes to put more life and air and breath into it."

RELATED | Watch Olly Alexander Bottom and Deny AIDS in 'It's a Sin' Clip

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