Offline Reginald Hudlin

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« on: October 03, 2011, 07:49:20 am »


October 2, 2011
Animated Fruit With Ambition

LOS ANGELES — There is little doubt that Dane Boedigheimer has created an online sensation that struck a pop cultural nerve. The “Annoying Orange” Web videos that he’s been rolling out for the last two years have racked up more than 800 million views on You Tube, where the threshold for a runaway hit is about 50 million.

Sprint and Dole have paid to use his wisecracking cartoon creation in marketing campaigns, and Toys “R” Us, Radio Shack and J. C. Penney are rolling out related merchandise for the Christmas season.

But TV channels and movie studios have yet to bite on Mr. Boedigheimer’s videos, which feature the kitchen adventures of an animated orange with a sinister smile and his buddies from the fruit and vegetable bins. And Mr. Boedigheimer, 31, isn’t waiting for their courtship. After receiving lukewarm responses to his informal overtures for an “Annoying Orange” television show, he opted for an alternative route: he made his own pilot, financed not by a studio or network, but by the management company representing him.

“The reaction is always, ‘I see why it resonates in a bite-sized way on the Web, but how is this a full-blown TV show?’ ” said Dan Weinstein, one of Mr. Boedigheimer’s managers.

Maybe it isn’t. There is certainly no guarantee that a cartoon orange can become the next SpongeBob SquarePants.

But Web video was supposed to be Hollywood’s greatest laboratory ever, a place to incubate ideas cheaply and take some of the stomach-churning guesswork out of selecting concepts for shows and movies — instead of spending millions to develop entertainment that more often than not flops straight out of the gate.

Six years after the proliferation of Web video, the number of entertainment concepts that have moved from Internet shorts to successful television shows are few. Hollywood still largely relies on its time-tested methods of finding hits: scripts funneled through agencies, young comedians, books and magazine articles. “The industry needs to continue to take risks on fresh ideas and people and, to that end, figure out how to better mine the Web,” said Jeff Gaspin, former chairman of NBC Universal Television. There are instances when it has worked. One home run was Nickelodeon’s “Fred: The Movie,” based on a Web series created by a Nebraska teenager, Lucas Cruikshank; its premiere attracted more than eight million viewers, according to Nielsen, making it one of the year’s top children’s telecasts. A sequel arrives Oct. 22.

But the result has more typically been a thud. “$#*! My Dad Says,” a CBS comedy based on a blog, was canceled after one season because of low ratings; “Quarterlife,” an NBC show that sprang from a Web drama, was dropped after one episode. As it turns out, what pops on the Web — short, unpolished bursts — is extremely hard to refine into the kind of longer-form content that flows through Hollywood’s traditional piping.

Part of the problem, at least in the eyes of Mr. Boedigheimer and his managers, involves that systemized development process. When network or studio teams do find something online with potential, they push it through the same creaky mill — focus groups, executive scrutiny — that they have relied on for decades to refine raw ideas into great entertainment (or at least commercially viable entertainment).

It is a process that can take two years, during which the online spark could easily die out. A new YouTube sensation could steal your thunder. “You get pushed around for months on end and so many voices get involved that the original voice — what was special — gets diluted or ruined,” said Gary Binkow, a partner at the Collective, the management company that represents Mr. Boedigheimer.

So Mr. Boedigheimer and the Collective are making the pilot themselves, with the managers picking up the bill. Aside from speed, the costs are lower. Making a 30-minute animated pilot through Hollywood channels (the route that “SpongeBob” took) costs about $1 million. The “Annoying Orange” pilot will cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

Conrad Vernon, one of the directors of “Shrek 2” and other DreamWorks Animation movies, is producing the pilot, which was co-written by Tom Sheppard, an Emmy winner for “Pinky and the Brain.” The Collective plans to shop it to networks starting next week. The target audience is children 6 to 12.

Trying to buck the industry’s deeply entrenched systems is a risk, but one the Collective says it thinks is worth taking: it is how Mr. Cruikshank made it to Nickelodeon. “Fred: the Movie” was independently made and sold to that network after the fact.

“Annoying Orange” has a lot going for it, including pun-strewn dialogue and the kind of sophomoric humor that is catnip to young boys and college students; episodes typically showcase a guest food getting chopped to bits. (In “Annoying Orange: A Cheesy Episode,” a talking chunk of Parmesan gets shredded with a grater. “That looks really degrading,” Orange quips.) It has tonal similarities to both “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “South Park” and features celebrity cameos. (James Caan voiced a jalapeño.)

But there are also liabilities. The crude animation that looks charming online would look cheap on TV. The “Annoying Orange” setting is extremely confining — a kitchen counter. And YouTube success itself can be off-putting. The entertainment industry’s senior ranks are still populated with people who, deep down, believe that the audience does not tell them what it wants; they tell the audience.

The goal of the “Annoying Orange” pilot is to prove to skeptical television executives that “Annoying Orange” can “embrace the biggest audience possible,” Mr. Boedigheimer said, while “maintaining the attitude and charm.” It relocates Orange and his buddies (Grandpa Lemon, Midget Apple) to a magical fruit cart that can travel in time. One segment features a knight who kidnaps Orange’s love interest, Passion Fruit, while another is set during the Revolutionary War.

Mr. Boedigheimer got the idea for “Annoying Orange” one night in 2009 when he was lying in bed. He started thinking about a piece of fruit that could talk and got the giggles. His dog, Cuddles, looked at him as if he were crazy, “but I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Mr. Boedigheimer said.

The next day, he bought an orange at a Food 4 Less supermarket and went to work in his kitchen, taping a segment with a Sony video camera and using software like Final Cut Pro to make a clip for YouTube. Working with friends, Mr. Boedigheimer has since made more than 90 videos, uploading a new one on YouTube every Friday.

“People respond because it’s simple and silly,” he said. “That, and people like to see talking food get hacked in half. Everybody needs a good kersplat once in a while.”

Even if Hollywood remains unpersuaded, “Annoying Orange” is about to become ubiquitous at the mall. The Collective plans to announce on Monday that it has secured a wide-ranging merchandise deal for the fruit. Themed T-shirts will arrive at Penney’s stores nationwide in October; Toys “R” Us will “prominently position” talking plush Oranges and related backpack adornments, among other items, in its stores, according to Richard Barry, a vice president of the chain.

“We think the irreverent humor is right on trend,” Mr. Barry said.