LOS ANGELES - It's logged more than 1 billion views on YouTube and is a genuine Internet sensation, even though all the characters are bickering, crudely animated fruits. But will TV audiences find "Annoying Orange" as appealing?
Cartoon Network is about to find out this week with its latest series, adapted from the enormously popular three-minute animated Web clips about a talking citrus with a high-pitched voice and a grating penchant for laughing at his own jokes.
Annoyed critics have trashed "Orange" for humor that might not pass muster on a grade-school playground: Imagine "South Park" set in a kitchen, minus the ripped-from-the-headlines outrageousness.
Creator Dane Boedigheimer - a native North Dakotan whose official bio describes him as a "goofball extraordinaire" - agrees it's all silly but says that's not the only point.
"Everybody knows someone like this character," he said in an interview last week.
But there's more at stake than just one relatable fruit. With Internet video viewership soaring - and Americans increasingly bypassing TV for their tablets, smartphones and laptops - "Annoying Orange" offers the latest test of whether the Internet can help reenergize television, a conventional media format often criticized for creative infertility and too many lookalike programs.
"We've been looking at Internet properties for quite a long time," said Rob Sorcher, chief content officer at Cartoon Network, explaining the decision to pick "Annoying Orange." "We're an obvious fit for what this show is."
Television networks have had some success transferring original Web content to the living-room flat-screen - and it seems that the goofier that content is, such as "Annoying Orange," the better. The antics of Fred Figglehorn - a manic, helium-voiced, deeply troubled 6-year-old portrayed by 18-year-old Lucas Cruikshank - jumped from YouTube to two hit movies for Nickelo-deon, with a third on the way. "Adventure Time," an animated satire of post-apocalyptic fantasies, was a Web hit first before Cartoon Network picked it up in 2010.
But not everything survives the jump. CBS was confident that a Twitter account based around bon mots from a grumpy septuagenarian could be spun into sitcom gold. Yet "$#*! My Dad Says," starring William Shatner, didn't even last an entire season.
Some experts see the inherent slickness of TV as not always conducive to homegrown Web fare.
"The Web and TV are merging, but we aren't there yet," said Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University. "Web 'subscribers' won't automatically follow Web series to television because some of the Web charm disappears once a traditional television channel grabs the content and, in a sense, mainstreams it."
But McCall added Cartoon could probably squeeze some business from "Orange" because it fits well with its fairly narrow, young-male target audience.
The main problem in moving to TV proved to be story development. Each episode for Cartoon contains two 15-minute segments - typical for many animated shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants," but five times as long as the Web version of "Annoying Orange." So Tom Sheppard, an Emmy-winning writer for the 1990s cartoon hit "Pinky and the Brain," was brought aboard to help broaden the story lines.
Sheppard came up with the idea of putting Orange and his other fruity pals on a food cart that could be transported anywhere - thus making it easy to introduce new story elements.
"It's sort of a 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' device," Sheppard said. "They can travel to medieval times, Roman times, anywhere."
Well-known actors have been hired for guest voicing roles, including Michael Clarke Duncan, Tim Curry, Malcolm McDowell and Leah Remini.
But the creators promise that even though "Annoying Orange" is headed for cable's kitchen, it won't end up slathered in fancy spices - or be any less annoying.
As Binkow put it: "We wanted to embrace the YouTube attitude and culture."