If there’s anyone working in television right now that I’d feel comfortable calling a true artist, Louis CK is that person. It’s not just the fact he’s aggressively pursued his own personal aesthetic within the framework of an episodic series, both within the studio system and outside it, but that he’s proven invested in pushing himself as a performer and as a creator. “Horace and Pete,” his independently-produced series about a Brooklyn bar filled with people down on their luck, is only the latest example of that.
When Louis CK made “Horace and Pete,” he broke all the rules. He didn’t partner with a network. He paid for the whole thing himself. He released the damn thing on a Saturday. And he didn’t tell anyone he was doing it. It was a total rebel move, which brings a level of irony to the fact that now, CK is looking to the establishment for approval. “Horace and Pete” will be competing at the Emmys this year as a drama.
As we noted at the time, it’s not the craziest move, given a cast stacked with previous nominees like Steve Buscemi, Jessica Lange, Alan Alda and CK himself. But it’s also unprecedented on a level that had us combing through the Emmy bylaws to see if it was even possible for the series to be nominated — and maybe, just maybe, wondering why an artist like CK would look to the Emmys for approval. Sure, he’d shown up in a tux before, but that was on FX’s dime and likely required by his FX contract. Why would he not only do this, but shoulder the cost of an expensive campaign personally?
It seems like we got our answer this week, thanks to a Howard Stern interview where CK revealed that he was “millions of dollars” in debt thanks to self-financing “Horace and Pete.”
As many people have rightly pointed out — including Vulture in a well-written breakdown of “Horace and Pete’s” real financial situation — CK isn’t actually in any real trouble financially, as it’s likely that new fans will keep finding it as long as it’s available for purchase, and he also has the ability to essentially rerun the series on another platform. (It’s hard to imagine that Netflix, Amazon and Hulu aren’t already filling up dump trucks of money for the rights.)
But it puts CK’s Emmy bid in a new perspective and also triggers some thoughts in general about how the Emmys may end up functioning in years to come. Specifically, CK might have turned the Emmys into a vehicle for promoting independent media. You know, just like the Oscars.
A nomination isn’t a guaranteed way to ensure that someone will pay money to watch something. (For example, nine nominations for “The Revenant” still didn’t convince me to see it.) But even if Steve Buscemi getting a nomination doesn’t bring in new fans to check out the series, any acknowledgment from the Emmys brings the series concrete validation, and increases the size of the dump trucks that Netflix and the like will be filling. If Louis CK makes a deal to stream “Horace and Pete” before the Emmy nominations are announced, I’ll eat my hat, or do something equally unpleasant, like watch “The Revenant.”
One of the most groundbreaking moments in Netflix’s history wasn’t the release of “House of Cards.” It was the Emmy nominations the first season received. Up until that point, no one was quite sure how the streaming service fit into the current ecosystem. But after nine nominations (and an eventual win for David Fincher for directing) it became clear there was room in the Emmys framework for the newest evolution in TV distribution.
We may be looking at not just a similar watershed moment for the Emmys, but for independent content in the television framework. For an awards show that sometimes seems to have a hard time keeping up with the current state of the industry, it may end up looking a lot more modern soon.