10 TV Shows That Started Life On YouTube

There’s a big legacy behind television shows, despite their reduced presence nowadays. This legacy has become entirely on-demand through digital archives. Combining this legacy with streaming services has kind of turned television into YouTube. As their current forms are so similar, YouTube itself has actually led to quite a few good television shows.

YouTube’s influence on entertainment is gargantuan, having led to untold influence on movies and TV. Pilots will sometimes be put on YouTube to gauge reception. Sometimes YouTube-based programming will be put on or adapted to TV. Whatever the case, these television shows owe their existence to YouTube.


10 Fred: The Show

Promo image of Fred: The Show

Fred Figglehorn, a character created by Luis Cruikshank, had one of the first YouTube channels to get big. The character was a child with a pitched-up voice who occupied a disturbingly dark world. In a lot of ways, it was Cruikshank messing around in the early days of online content creation. Despite humble origins, Nickelodeon would pick up the character for movies and a TV series.

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The Fred movies are widely remembered for featuring John Cena, but the show featured much of the same cast. It was very much similar to other Nickelodeon sitcoms of the time, with wacky humor. Notably, Fred’s dark world was toned down heavily from the YouTube original. Despite being reviewed poorly, it still remains perhaps the most famous YouTube to TV transition.

9 Adventure Time

Finn and Jake hug in Adventure Time

Adventure Time ended up becoming one of Cartoon Network’s biggest shows of the 2010s. However, its origins lie in a pilot from many years earlier. This pilot was submitted to Nickelodeon, which ultimately chose to pass on it. As such it was placed on YouTube instead.

Internet video sites like YouTube and others of the time proved to be the best place for it as the pilot achieved viral status. Combined with the success of Pendleton Ward’s other project Flapjack, the idea was revisited. Finn and Jake would never go on adventures without YouTube’s help.

8 The High-Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange

Characters from The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange

Another Cartoon Network endeavor was the High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange. This took the YouTube channel’s approach of having actors’ mouths imposed onto fruit for animation. Debuting in 2012, it featured popular YouTubers of the time like Tobuscus and iJustine. Unfortunately, it didn’t receive very good reviews.

The series mostly focuses on the misadventures of fruit on a stand at a local supermarket. This is a departure from the web series, where they were in a kitchen. Still, the series mostly revolves around misadventures from Orange, Pear, and Apple. Despite poor reviews, it ran for two seasons.

7 Discovering David Dobrik

Title card for Discovering David Dobrik

Sometimes, rather than any specific show, a YouTuber’s personality is enough to get them a show. Discovering David Dobrik is a natural extension of the creator’s vlog content. His videos (and before then, Vines) typically featured him and his friends reacting to the world around them. This was known as The Vlog Squad, and the premise is kept for the Discovery+ show.

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The series follows David and his friends traveling around the world. As a subplot, it also includes David earning his United States citizenship. The series received modest praise from fans but critics weren’t as impressed. The release of episodes for the series has been suspended over the last few months.

6 Adam Ruins Everything

While technically beginning as a web series on CollegeHumor before TV, the first episodes of Adam Ruins Everything were also cross-posted on YouTube. YouTube clips for the original series and television format alike rank high in views. It’s easy to see why, as the series is an educational comedy with clever writing. Despite often tackling deep or uncomfortable subject matter, episodes usually end with a positive spin.

Every episode begins with a character expressing interest in some broad topic, like medicine or Christmas. Adam will then appear and debunk many of the misconceptions about that topic, usually in a socially conscious way. This will lead to exasperation and then to the final act and positive spin. The show was praised for its nuanced and easy-to-follow approach to complex topics.

5 letterkenny

Andrew Herr and Dylan Playfair in Letterkenny Season 10

letterkenny won the 2017 Canadian Screen Award for Best Comedy Series and is generally considered to be one of the best Canadian shows in recent memory. This is warranted, as letterkenny has tons of funny moments. All this prestige belies its origins as a YouTube series. It originally premiered as Letterkenny Problems in 2013, and acclaim caused it to be picked up as a show.

The show centers around the fictional Canadian town of Letterkenny, which has a population of 5000. The main characters, Wayne and Katy, have their hands full with a produce stand. Other episodes pile on additional conflict with the town’s many groups. Unusually for a small town, the series has piled on laughs with tons of intelligent and fast-paced wordplay.

4 Insecure

Issa and Kelli outside

Not every web series makes it to TV without at least a few changes. In the case of Issa Rae’s 2011 hit YouTube show Awkward Black Girlthe adaptation changed it into Insecure. This isn’t a problem by any means, as this series about the awkward experiences of contemporary African American women excelled. It ran for five critically acclaimed seasons.

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The series is set in southern Los Angeles and deals with the struggles of its two female protagonists. Issa works for a nonprofit that seeks to help middle schoolers of color and tries to make things work with her boyfriend Lawrence. Molly is a corporate attorney who has difficulties with dating. The show was praised for the expert way it handled social and racial issues.

3 Oddballs

Oddballs by the YouTube creator Odd1sout.

This show hasn’t debuted yet, but it’s one of the most anticipated animated shows for Netflix. Oddballs is created by the mind behind and expected to have similar content to the Odd1sOut YouTube channel. James, a bubble-shaped boy, rants and illustrates his experiences. It’s an adaptation of the popular YouTube animation genre of “Storytime” with more of a framing device plot.

As such, James now has a supporting cast to bounce off of. This includes a talking crocodile named Max and a girl from the future named Echo. According to press releases, James’ interactions with these new characters will result in larger plots. The series is expected to debut later this year after being in development throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic.

2 Broad City

Split image of Ilana and Abbi in Broad City

Broad City was one of the understated hits of the 2010s. This Comedy Central series ran for five critically acclaimed seasons, ending in 2019. It was created by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson based on their same-name web series. The original YouTube series also enjoyed a successful two-season run and its finale featured Amy Poehler.

Poehler’s involvement eventually leads to the series being created. Like the web show, it focuses on Ilana and Abbi’s real-life friendship as they try to make it in New York City. The show’s NYC setting and focus on incidental humor led to comparisons to Seinfeld but it’s also been praised for its well-executed feminist themes.

1 Cobra Kai

cobra kai

Cobra Kai has had major success in revitalizing ’80s sports cinema, but most know it as Netflix’s Karate Kid sequel. People seem to have forgotten that it got its start on YouTube’s streaming service, YouTube Red. Before season 3 jumped to Netflix, this hard-hitting series could be found exclusively on YouTube. The original season’s smaller scope is perhaps indicative of its roots.

Cobra Kai stars Johnny Lawrence, the bully from the first Karate Kid film, attempting to pick up his life by re-starting his old dojo. As the series continues, Daniel LaRusso and other characters from the original series appear. The real appeal of the show, however, is the relationship between Johnny and his apprentice Miguel. With season 5 on the way, fans are excited to see more of this former YouTube sensation.

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