Five hundred Gazillion Web video channels and nothing good on? Google this: You Suck at Photoshop. Narrated by the fictional Donnie Hoyle--an angry, sarcastic, cuckolded Photoshop expert--it was launched in late December and ended 10 episodes later, in April, when Donnie mysteriously disappeared. Not that you ever saw him. In the videos, the camera remains centered on a computer desktop and follows Donnie's cursor as he conducts mock tutorials on how to use the photo-altering application. Sound obscure? Maybe not. With the explosion of blogging and do-it-yourself publishing, Photoshop has become one of the Web generation's indispensable tools. Accordingly, the Donnie series has been viewed nearly 8 million times and is up for two 2008 Webby Awards: Best Comedy and Best How-To Video.
How a goof became a phenomenon is a Web-age love story almost as sweet as Donnie is bitter. Many fans believed the video series had to have been made by a professional comedian; Dane Cook was a favorite suspect. But it turns out to be the work of Troy Hitch, 37, and Matt Bledsoe, 39, both of Covington, Ky.--two former ad-agency guys who met while recording a radio commercial in nearby Cincinnati, Ohio. They buddied up, started writing funny bits and launched a new-media-centric creative agency called Big Fat Institute in 2005.
That's where Rob Barnett discovered them. A show-biz guy who had worked at MTV and VH1 before spending two years at the helm of CBS Radio, Barnett had decided to become a Web-video impresario. He found Big Fat Institute while looking for someone to design his website. You Suck at Photoshop "was hysterical," Barnett recalled recently. "I was instantly engaged and e-mailed them: 'WHO are you?' In 38 seconds, I get a response: 'Who are YOU?' We started flirting." The e-mail led to phone calls and an invitation to visit Barnett in New Jersey. "A few days later, they jumped on a plane to Newark, and we fell in love," he says. Barnett signed the guys to build his video-entertainment website, MyDamnChannel.com and then produce comedy videos for it. You Suck at Photoshop was their first baby.
Hitch and Bledsoe had long nurtured an idea for a character they thought of as the Angry Photoshop Guy. Explains Bledsoe: "We had both been in the agency business so long that after a while we'd seen every kind of person in the advertising world." One of those stereotypes, he says, was the "insane designer, basically. He has horrible social skills and horrible things going on in his life, and the only thing he has going for him is he can out-Photoshop the guy in the cube next to him." It took 2 1/2 hours to complete Episode 1. "The vast majority is improvised by Troy," says Bledsoe. "I hate him for that." Hitch adds, "It was meant to be a one-off thing." But within a few weeks, the blogosphere discovered it, and the series began racking up page views.
In my favorite episode, Donnie shows viewers how to seamlessly remove the wedding band from a picture of his cheating wife's finger. "We actually really put the ring up for sale on eBay, and within four hours, 30,000 people had come by to look or bid on it," Hitch tells me. "The ring was bid up to $760." But eBay shut down the auction after discovering the performance art--a violation of the terms of service, apparently.
The team emerged from anonymity in April to launch a sequel, Snatchbuckler's Second Chance. It's filmed in a fictional, virtual world called Peopleburg.com Snatchbuckler, Donnie's erstwhile partner in the online game World of Warcraft, has gone there to shake off his Internet addiction. The video debuted on MyDamnChannel.com in late April, and it looks pretty cool. But I miss Donnie and wish I could Photoshop him back into my life.
Know Technology? To view an episode of You Suck at Photoshop, go to time.com/photoshop