It seemed that with his extended hiatus from FX's "Louie," Louis C.K. didn't have a horse in this year's Emmys race. But anyone who tries to predict what Louis C.K. will do next is playing a foolish game.
For example, before this January, we never would have called that C.K. would take it upon himself to create "Horace and Pete," a fully independent dramedy series starring himself and Steve Buscemi as cousins and co-owners of a bar where people like Edie Falco, Steven Wright, Aidy Bryant and Jessica Lange show up. And now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, C.K. is reportedly planning to submit the series for Emmys consideration this year.
Available for purchase directly from C.K.'s site for $2-5 an episode, "Horace and Pete" has so far premiered nine episodes, which have been as short as 30 minutes and as long as 70 -- given the new definitions between half-hour and hour-long programming (a.k.a. the new definition of "comedy" and "drama," per Emmy rules), "Horace" would compete as a drama.
The bigger issue, though, is the series' distribution strategy. By being released not through a streaming service like Netflix, but instead as individual VOD episodes, the show could violate this section of the Emmys Rules and Procedures:
"Television programs that are offered for sale on home video devices or offered for sale by means of electronic sell-through on the Internet prior to their first airing or Internet exhibition are not eligible, unless such offering occurs within seven (7) days prior to the program’s original airing or Internet exhibition."
Technically, the series' "first Internet exhibition" is via VOD through C.K.'s site, but it's still offered for sale on home video devices. If that's all it takes for a series to become eligible, the floodgates could come crashing open. Think about it: How many independent TV shows are available for purchase via Vudu or Vimeo that would qualify in this scenario? Programs broadcast on television have to reach a minimum of 50 percent of the "total potential U.S. television audience," a figure immeasurable for streaming networks like Netflix, but entirely inadequate for anything available without a subscription (at least Netflix does tell us how many subscribers it has). That's the main reason the "or Internet exhibition" language was added in years ago, but how it applies to C.K.'s distribution method is fuzzy, at best.
UPDATE: According to John Leverence of the Television Academy, via email, "Horace and Pete" is not only eligible, but officially entered for consideration. "As Louis CK has done before, his series’ episodes are posted and can be downloaded then and there for a fee. It’s pay as you view TV, and pay TV per our rules is eligible," he said. "The rule cited is the so-called PBS Pledge Drive Exception to the rule that straight-to-video entertainment is not television and hence not Emmy eligible except in cases where, say for example, your local PBS station pitches its big Pledge Drive special with a DVD of the same within the week that the heavily promoted special airs."
While the news could be seen as a boon for independent TV, especially if C.K.'s series earns a nomination, another fascinating element of the decision is strictly financial. Some fuss was made when "Horace and Pete" was first released over the cost of the pilot episode — $5 — to which C.K. responded via a statement on his site: "The dirty, unmovable fact is that this show is f—ing expensive. [...] Basically, this is a handmade, one-guy-paid-for-it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation."
While it's admirable he's putting art before profits, how will that rationale apply when it comes time to mount an expensive Emmys campaign? The "giant corporations" typically spend millions on campaigning, and it wouldn't seem likely C.K. could match them. Does it make the submission itself pointless? Not necessarily, but the challenges are already quickly stacking up.
If "Horace and Pete" is in fact proven eligible despite the above issues, it faces one of the toughest races in years. But again, that cast is hard to beat, and it's hard not to admire C.K.'s guts when it comes to both what he creates, and how he chooses to create it.
More mainstream fare from Louis C.K...