When Otessa Ghadar created a TV show inspired by her memories of being a teenager in D.C., she expected it to be viewed by her college thesis committee and few others. Four seasons later, Ghadar’s Web-based Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden attracts up to 80,000 viewers a day, including a strong contingent from, of all, places France.
Ghadar is baffled by the popularity of her show, which chronicles the large and small obstacles in the lives of a dozen upper-middleclass high schoolers, in non-English speaking countries. “If it weren’t for Google Analytics, it’s something I wouldn’t even be aware of,” says Ghadar. Orange Juice attracts fans from 136 countries (including Papua New Guinea and Cameroon). Domestic viewers make up the largest share of the show’s audience, but the French are actually the top watchers of its YouTube channel. (Also in the YouTube top 10: Namibia, Belgium, Laos, and Luxembourg.) Orange Juice can also be watched on the official show website with French subtitles.
Ghadar’s 18 regular recurring characters, all played by local actors, attend pool parties, steal one another’s boyfriends, and explore their first lesbian crushes, all on location in D.C. and all dressed in the director’s old wardrobe from the ‘90s. (The show is set in that decade to reflect Ghadar’s memories.)
She suspects that the plotline of Sarah and Gwen, who start a cautious relationship in season two, is responsible for some of the show’s popularity abroad. “We got a lot of positive press in France about that,” she says, and a French distribution company also picked up the storyline.
Ghadar produced season one while she was still a student (“now I just cringe watching it”) but she managed to sprinkle a few breadcrumbs foreshadowing Sarah’s development. “In many ways I was the most interested in the Sarah character,” she says. “It always felt like she was uncomfortable in public. I always got the sense that there was something she was hiding.”
The second season, which shows improvement over the first in everything from the script to the acting to the cinematography, introduces viewers to Gwen, whom Ghadar based partly on a girl she and her friends idolized in high school. “That character is just such a breath of fresh air, so brash,” she says.
Gwen and Sarah’s relationship has also attracted attention from lesbian-focused website She Wired and the lesbian community as a whole. “Without them, we would be still a fledgling little baby bird, not yet able to fly,” Ghadar says.
Despite the international and local support for the show, Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden’s finances are tight. “It’s incredibly difficult,” says Ghadar, who works on the show full time. “I’d say it’s become more difficult every year.” Last year, the show relied on crowd funding to keep going, and Ghadar is looking for new streams of revenue, like product placement. The fifth season is scheduled to debut in January.
Though Orange Juice is Ghadar’s first love and she wants it to run as long as possible, she is looking to future, with a science fiction Web series in the works. She hopes both projects continue online, where they can be viewed by fans in Qatar and Michigan.
“It’s boundless,” she says of the Web series medium. “It’s amazing, it’s exciting. … I’m very lucky to be able to do with I love.”