Annoying Orange is one of the biggest successes of YouTube, as the series that started as a lying-in-bed revelation from creator Dane Boedigheimer eventually found 2.4 million subscribers and more than 1.2 billion views online. The series follows its title character as he interacts with other food items, some of whom get hacked in two by a knife.
It's now become a television series on Cartoon Network, and the premiere last week was the top-rated show of the day among kids age 2 to 11, 6 to 11 and 9 to 14. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Mondays.
We spoke with Boedigheimer, who lives in Silver Lake, about translating Annoying Orange to television. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
What's it been like making Annoying Orange into a television series?
It's been pretty hectic continuing to do the web show as well as the other channels I run on YouTube, as well as doing the TV show at the same time. But it's been insanely fun.
[Before the show premiered, Cartoon Network aired one episode as a a sneak peek at the series.] We went to a local restaurant [Barbarella's in Silver Lake] and watched it with a bunch of people. It was cool seeing it with a crowd because I got to see everyone's reactions and see them laugh. When I see stuff on the Internet, it's me in my room.
What have been the biggest challenges in translating it to TV?
It's really about expanding the characters, which is something we can't do with the web show as much. Beyond that, it's about adding scope. The sneak peek — it was a spoof of Star Trek. They're traveling through space on the spaceship and they crash-land on Marshmallow's home planet, come into contact with Marshmallow's race, have to fight a rock candy monster. It's not just talking heads any more.
How is it all put together visually?
It's all pretty much computer-generated. We have one live human character that's their companion, Nerval [played by YouTube star Toby Turner]. He kind of goes along with them on all of their adventures.
But as far as the technical aspects, we're all stationed at a studio and [the 10 animators] are using the same images as I use on the web show, all the same eyes that I shot — it's very similar to what I do but on a much bigger scale.
For the first episodes of the web show I had an actual orange, actual pear. I didn't want to change the look of it, so I used the same image of the orange [every time.] It's just a Photoshop file. In the web series, if I cut up a fruit I shoot that live-action, but a lot of times I'll take stock footage of, say, an apple and make a Photoshop file. That's what we're doing on the TV show as well.
How does the writers room work?
We hired Tom Sheppard [a writer on Pinky and the Brain and other shows]. He came in and wrote the two pilot episodes and from there, once it got picked up, he wrote a ton more and we hired out 10 or so other writers. It was just a process where they'd pitch ideas to Tom, and if Tom and the network liked them, they'd say go for it.
Was it weird to have 10 new people working on your show?
it's always weird when people come in and they have an understanding of the world that you created. It's kind of fun, though, because many times you get people who do stuff with the characters that you wouldn't think to do but it ends up being funny.
Marshmallow is a big example. Marshmallow on the web show is this fun, lovable character who loves everything. In the television show there's a few instances where Marshmallow will get a little dark. He — I shouldn't say “he” because Marshmallow is not gendered, we don't know what gender Marshmallow is — he's always saying stuff like, “I love unicorns and rainbows” but there will be instances on the TV show where he'll say, “I want everyone to die,” but he'll say, “Yay, I love you guys!”
Are there deep-seated aspects of Orange's background that the show will reveal?
We haven't really dove into his origin story too much. We meet his parents in the TV show, but other than that you get a little taste of his past but there's not too much. Orange doesn't really like apples. There's a main apple in the crew with them and the two are always bickering with each other.
What are the other characters?
Harland Williams plays Apple. There's a peach played by Felicia Day. There's a ton of celebrity guests — Michael Clarke Duncan plays the Marshmallow king. Danny Trejo plays a gunslinger. Tony Hawk, Jeffrey Tambor.
Are you going for a particular audience?
This is geared toward kids, but we want to make it fun for adults too. There are a lot of jokes that will skate right over kids' heads but the parents will get. On top of that, we've been cognizant that the Internet holds a lot of power as far as social media. There are a lot of people, like Felicia Day and Toby Turner, who we brought on who have their audiences, who are a giant help.
What was the first moment when you came up with Annoying Orange?
The first time I was lying in bed going going sleep. That first Annoying Orange video, that's pretty much what popped into my head. I stated laughing in bed and my girlfriend was like, “What are you laughing at?” and I was like, “It's too stupid to even explain.” I made a mental note and the next day started making it, and a week later it was up.
I was working freelance just doing all kinds of different videos. I was doing YouTube, but not really making enough from YouTube to make a living. I did stuff for Disney, usually Internet videos that were less than a minute. I was taking work locally doing video jobs, making little two-minute videos about business they could put on their website.
There's an element of that. Look at the Numa Numa guy — he was just goofing off and his video blew up. With some of it there is an intended calculation. Like me doing the Annoying Orange — that is to some degree me experimenting, hanging around, having fun, but there's always the hope of it taking off. I never expected that because you can never expect that. There's a lot of experimenting and goofing around that goes on.
Have you ever watched Bad Lip Reading? It is so funny it's ridiculous. They take videos of politicians giving speeches but they redub it. It's what it looks like they're saying but it's total nonsense. It's hilarious. It's stuff like that — it's having fun.
Did you think of your audience?
I had a fairly decent subscriber base — I had 35,000 people subscribed to me at the time. I was trying to be fairly consistent with my work, uploading every week or every couple weeks. Every video I was trying to experiment and expand my base of knowledge. It was getting better with your craft. It was trying to please the audience as well as make myself laugh.
I have a very dedicated audience for Orange. It blew up in that first year or so and now it's at that plateau where it's a very hard-core audience.
It skews male, 55 percent to 45 percent, and it's hard to tell with YouTube because with their terms of service you have to be 13 to make an account, but there are a lot of kids with accounts. YouTube states it's 13-18 but I would assume it's more like 8-13 is the really big audience. That's [around] Cartoon Network's demo.
What was the process of making a pilot for the TV show?
It took place over at least a year from starting to talk about it to the very end. It started out bringing Tom in to write it. First and foremost is, where is this going to take place, how is this going to happen. We figured it couldn't just stay in the kitchen.
We had a bunch of people who came in and Tom was one of them. He pitched us an idea and we were like “eh” and we didn't know where to go. Then Tom called back [with another idea]: They all live on this fruit cart that's a time-traveling fruit cart that can pretty much do whatever it wants. We loved that. He wrote two scripts.
I directed two pilot episodes in one week. We filmed it all on a big green-screen stage. It Got it all edited with a special effects team. Then after we got it all done, we shopped it around. Cartoon Network was by far the most receptive.
How did you and your management company, The Collective, decide to make it on your own without pitching it to networks first?
We didn't want to lose the rights to it. A lot of it was me, but that's also The Collective's mentality — let's make it ourselves and let's license it, let's retain ownership.
I make my living from YouTube. If I pitched it to a network and they decided, “Hey let's do the TV show now,” they own the property and if the TV show fails where am I at? It only helps everything, because to be able to have a TV show that's running and a popular web series running at the same time that gives so much traffic to [the TV show], we're kind of on the forefront of something crazy.
You do a lot of the voices on the show. How have you learned how to do voice acting? Did you have to study it?
I started out just doing animation and doing voice-over for animation. I listen to my stuff from two years ago — it's horrible. I had no idea about energy and inflection. It's just a learning process.
What's the quirkiest Annoying Orange merchandise?
One of the ones that I'm for some reason excited about that we're apparently going to be doing is Annoying Orange gummies. Like gummy snacks. But there's been a ton of stuff we've done. One of the ones that's weirded me out the most is Halloween costumes. It's so weird to put those masks on and you kind of look like Orange or Pear.