Marcel the Shell and Other Unlikely Media Empires


Last week we found out that not only is Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s wonderful viral video “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” being turned into a children’s book, it’s also being developed into a full-blown TV show. Though we love Marcel (and Jenny and Dean, for that matter), and are nothing but happy about this turn of events, we have to admit that we think it’s pretty wild that their homemade video has turned almost overnight into a burgeoning media empire. The news got us to thinking about other unlikely media empires that have cropped up in recent years, a phenomenon that will probably start happening more and more. Click through to see our list of unlikely media empires, and let us know which ones we’ve missed in the comments.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

We’ve loved Marcel from the minute we laid eyes on him — or to be honest, heard that voice of his. But now he’s becoming more than we ever could have dreamed. As Jenny Slate told Jezebel, “I think although Marcel originated in film, the character can be put out there in many different forms of art… There’s definitely more Marcel coming and yes, we are in the development process of a TV show. The future’s open for him. I think we’ll do as much with him as we can until either he changes for us or there isn’t anything more to say. But for now, there’s so much more to say. There’s so much more about Marcel that we haven’t even told you yet. I don’t even know if I can say it! Marcel has some pretty amazing talents that he’s really proud of and there will be a lot more.”

The Cheezburger Network

Ben Huh, the man behind LOLCats, FAIL Blog, and a billion cute baby animal photos and zombie-based charts, has turned what appears to have been a bunch of silly ideas and some weird thing called a ‘meme’ into a new media empire 53 websites strong and counting. Not only that, but 16 million people attended Huh’s online meme carnival in 2010, so it’s pretty safe to say he has a devoted following. But unlike the Murdoch monstrosity, this media empire is a collaborative effort. As Huh told Mother Jones last year, “This is the 1950s all over again, when television changed the world by spreading pop culture. Except with the Internet it’s driven by the people who participate, not the people who create from a leather couch in Hollywood.”


Seriously, who would have thought that this mail-based community art project would become the worldwide sensation it is today? Creator Frank Warren started the project in 2005, and since then has published five PostSecret books. International versions of the site have popped up everywhere, so you can now read secrets in French, German, Portugese, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and even Kazakh. Warren also goes on regular speaking tours to promote social acceptance and awareness, has organized a curated art exhibit of secrets that tours the nation, and has teamed up with organizations like 1-800-suicide to provide help to those in need.

Sh*t My Dad Says

This one is particularly unlikely, as far as we’re concerned. After moving back into his parents house, “semi-employed” 29-year old comedy writer Justin Halpern started keeping a private Twitter feed documenting the comments his father made on a variety of topics. A friend posted the link, it took off, and the rest is history. Not only did Halpern get a book deal out of his Twitter account, but in 2010 CBS aired the first episode of the TV adaptation of Sh*t my Dad Says starring William Shatner, which won the People’s Choice Award for Best New Comedy. It has since been cancelled, but still — Twitter feed to TV show? That is some serious new media action.

James Franco

We know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but there’s no denying it. James Franco is a media empire all by his onesies. The kid’s got his hand in everything from film to television to education to literature, and he’s showing no signs of stopping. Just wait, and in about five years you’ll be reading this article on Francopill, on your FrancBook Pro, in your soft and cozy Designed by James sweater. That is, if we’re not already living in the United States of Jamerica. You heard it here first, folks.