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An epic star is born

Local cooking show quickly becoming the biggest thing since sliced bacon

By Walter J. Lyng

As Harley Morenstein first walked through the doors of the Gersh talent agency in Los Angeles, he experienced the kind of star-struck moment typical for first-time Tinseltown visitors. In this case, however, Morenstein had not spotted a famous actor or pop music sensation. Walking out of the agency at that very moment was Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden radio voice who, because of a massively circulated viral video, had recently become an overnight celebrity.

The chance encounter could not have been more serendipitous seeing as how Morenstein, 25, was meeting with Gersh reps on account of his own meteoric rise to fame via the same medium that had plucked Williams out of despondency: YouTube.

Unlike Williams, Scotland’s Susan Boyle or Canada’s own Justin Bieber, DDO native Morenstein and a group of his friends came to prominence not for a particular skill or talent, but for their commitment to post online a new video every week in which they cook up gargantuan meals. They call it Epic Meal Time. Incorporating an orgy of heart-stopping ingredients, key among them being bacon — lots of bacon — the epic meals have so far managed to rack up 30 million views in only three months.

“I like to refer to us as the Bieber of bacon,” says co-creator Morenstein. “It’s hard for a 15-year-old boy who isn’t a fan of the music to take pride in Justin Bieber, but the guy yelling about bacon, you can take pride in him.”

As ridiculous as the Bieber comparison may sound, it just might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Currently signed with Gersh and under the management of Brillstein Entertainment Partners (both Hollywood heavyweights), Morenstein and Co., as first reported by Entertainment Weekly, may soon be getting their very own TV show.

“I don’t know who goes on YouTube and doesn’t think about eventually being on TV at some point, or being in movies,” says Morenstein. “We came up with the idea, before anything, that this could make a TV show and we thought immediately how we could prolong the two and a half or three minutes into a 22-minute, 30-minute show.”

While YouTube, since its introduction in 2005, has certainly paved the way for many to get their 15 minutes of fame, the Epic guys seem to epitomize a new viral generation who, rather than fall backwards into fame, know how to use the system to their best advantage.

“We assumed that this might get 30,000 views in a week,” he says. “That’s the frame of mind we had. And then when it got 100,000 views in the first week, we were like ‘Whoa… let’s do it again.’”

For Morenstein and his producing partner Sterling Toth, the cooking show was hardly their first foray into new media. Working on music videos for local artists, sketch comedy and other videos which they would enter into contest and competitions, Morenstein says he and Toth had several ideas kicking around, all of which they hoped had the potential to go viral (that is to say, find a huge web-based audience). The idea that seemed to stand out the most was Epic Meal Time.

“We stood back and were like ‘This might be popular,’” he says. “We’re a bunch of guys getting crazy with food. Food is like fashion; it doesn’t get old, it just evolves.”

Submitting links to the video to other popular sites such as Digg, BuzzFeed and Funnyjunk, the views quickly added up and with them came royalties thanks to the ads they placed on their videos. The modest revenue they began to receive was both an incentive to keep going and a welcomed bit of budgetary assistance. The meals were initially financed entirely by Morenstein’s credit card, which proved daunting especially when it came to one of their most-watched creations: the Turbaconepic, which featured five different birds stuffed into an entire pig — setting them back $600.

“If one person wanted to make a good living on YouTube, they would have to be getting about a million views every two weeks, at least,” he says. “I know the guy at the top of YouTube makes 300 grand a year putting up videos.”

Requiring more and more work in terms of editing, web design and maintaining a strong presence on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, running the show soon led Morenstein to quit his job as a high school teacher and Toth to quit his as a graphic designer.

And then, the calls from Hollywood started coming in.

“All of a sudden, through YouTube, I’m getting flown down there for business,” says Morenstein. “And I’m meeting people in high positions with TV shows that I like to watch. It’s nuts. Not many people get to go and face a dream.”

But could these short, amusing videos really be turned into full-length episodes? Undoubtedly, says Morenstein. “You might be looking at this on your phone, or you may be leaning over someone’s shoulder at their computer desk, so it’s got to be short for that reason. It’s not short because we don’t have ideas.”

Although those ideas are part of a pitch being made to 10 different channels, Morenstein says he can’t talk about them now pending a final deal.
Whatever deal they may or may not make, it would be to the benefit of the Epic Meal Time gang to hold up Ted Williams — who crashed and burned almost as fast as he ascended — as a cautionary tale. Williams seemingly couldn’t handle the instant fame. Then again, Williams didn’t really ask for it.

As Morenstein walked by the exiting Williams, he asked the Gersh rep to his side if they were in the same boat. “He says ‘No, you’re different from Ted. Ted Williams was coming in for a book deal.’ That I could imagine; a book — it’s a great story I’d love to hear. But this is a food show which is constantly evolving.”

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