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Variety’s 2014 Breakthrough Internet Sensation Winner: ‘Burning Love’

Ken Marino's Internet sensation inspired by 'The Bachelor'

The Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards, which recognizes a select group of rising stars in entertainment and technology, will be held Jan. 9 at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

From the earnest-yet-smarmy tones of host Bill Tundle (Michael Ian Black) and the vapid narcissism of its contestants to its overlit McMansion setting, Yahoo series “Burning Love” looks and sounds like every other reality dating program — only slightly more profane and absurd. So it’s understandable if many viewers fail to realize the show is a spoof.

“When you look at the comments on Yahoo, people say, ‘I can’t believe that they said that! I can’t believe that they did that!’ ’’ says actor Paul Scheer, who plays Robby Z on the show.

SEE ALL: Breakthrough of the Year Awards

“Burning Love” is the brainchild of writer Erica Oyama and her husband, actor Ken Marino (“Role Models,” “We’re the Millers”), who directs and stars as fireman Mark Orlando.

Oyama says “Burning Love” was inspired by her genuine love of reality TV and, specifically, “The Bachelor” franchise. She wrote a short based on the series’ marriage proposal finale shows, and shot it with “The Hangover’s” Ken Jeong playing one of the bachelorettes in blonde-wig drag.

“We were thinking that maybe we would shoot this short for the Internet as a one-off,” Oyama says. “Then we took a step back and realized if we expanded this world and did a full season it would give us an opportunity to involve a lot of other funny characters and great actors we know.”

Oyama and Marino approached producer Jonathan Stern (“Funny or Die Presents …,” “Childrens Hospital”) with the idea, and he took it to Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films, which has an overall deal at Paramount Digital Entertainment. Paramount commissioned Oyama and Marino to create a 90-second sizzle reel, which was shot in one day at Marino’s manager’s house. A year later, in 2012, they got the greenlight to go to series after Paramount finalized a distribution deal with Yahoo.

The first season of 14 webisodes was shot guerrilla-style in eight days in a Calabasas, Calif., mansion that ended up serving as the set for the entire three-season run.

Typical network TV amenities were in short supply. The dressing room for June Diane Raphael, who stars as bachelorette Julie Gristlewhite, was a walk-in closet; male cast members spent their downtime between shots in a spare bedroom. Nonetheless, the show attracted stars like Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jerry O’Connell and Colin Hanks, all of whom worked for union scale.

“I think that giving people that creative space to just be insane without network executives staring at you and running out to give notes after every take made it really worth it,” says Raphael, who is married to Scheer in real life. “I just felt like whatever instincts I had, I should try,” whether it be launching into an unrehearsed profanity-laden rant during a date or masturbating with a pillow as she lay in the grass fantasizing about hunky bachelor Blaze (Ryan Hansen).

“We had the best time making ‘Burning Love,’ ” says Marino. “Getting awards for making something that was so fun to create seems unfair, but we’ll take it. And any cash you have lying around.”

In June, “Burning Love” made its cable debut on E!, which is currently airing shows from all three seasons.

In the meantime, Oyama and Marino have written a sitcom pilot for Fox TV and are now busy scripting a bigscreen adaptation of the 32-page tongue-in-cheek children’s book “Go the Fuck to Sleep” (“We have two kids and we’ve lived it,” says Oyama), while Raphael is writing a pair of pilots, one for NBC to star Casey Wilson (“Happy Endings”) and another for ABC she’ll topline herself.

At the moment, there are no plans for a fourth season of “Burning Love.”

“I think we’re all done,” says Oyama. “I addressed each incarnation of the source material – ‘The Bachelor,’ ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘Bachelor Pad.’ But if we had a great idea to reinvent it, I would be all for it.”

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