Emmys: Louie C.K.'s 'Horace and Pete' Could Become First Indie Web Show to Land Major Noms (at a Cost)

THR's awards columnist looks at the mounting Emmys campaign for C.K.'s groundbreaking drama series — and why it's so important for the future of the show and its creator.
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Louie C.K. and Steve Buscemi in 'Horace and Pete'

During the 2014 Emmys telecast, comedian Billy Eichner mocked the trend of websites releasing TV shows, claiming, for instance, that stuck-in-the-past Hotmail was picking up the long-canceled Judging Amy. But this year, for the first time since the internet was introduced as an Emmy-eligible platform in 2008, the TV Academy might actually nominate — in at least one major category and quite possibly more — a show from a truly independent website.

The show? Horace and Pete, a massively acclaimed 10-episode, multi-camera drama series starring C.K. and other TV royals such as Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Laurie Metcalf and Alan Alda. The site? Louis C.K.'s https://louisck.net.

Major-category Emmy noms and wins have previously been bestowed upon shows from dedicated internet streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and Creative Arts Emmy recognition has previously been accorded to shows from network-backed websites (e.g. ComedyCentral.com and CartoonNetwork.com), as well as indies (FunnyOrDie.com, AmericanExpress.com and YouTube.com).

But a guy financing, producing and distributing through a personal website — in this case for $5 for the first episode, $2 for the second and $3 each for episodes 3 through 10 — a show that subsequently winds up with a major Emmy nom for, say, best drama series or best supporting actor in a drama series (the category in which Alda stands a very real shot)? That's just unprecedented.

C.K. has been down a similar path before. Just last year, he released his standup comedy special Louis C.K.: Live at the Comedy Store through the same website that's distributing Horace and Pete. The special cost virtually nothing to make, was sold for $5 a pop and grossed a reported — and astounding — $4.5 million in the first two days after it was posted. It also wound up with an Emmy nomination for best variety special and an Emmy win for best writing for a variety special — although, because it had a subsequent window on FX, that network, which also airs C.K.'s hit comedy series Louie, handled its screeners and other campaign expenses.

But Horace and Pete, which hit the web on Jan. 30, has no such support system — and besides, is a very different sort of show. It's not a C.K. comedy special or even a C.K. comedy series. Rather, it's a gritty throwback to the Playhouse 90 sort of drama series that dominated television during its first Golden Age in the '40s and '50s but to which present-day audiences are less accustomed.

For C.K., it represented an opportunity to be a pure artist — to retain total creative control of every aspect of a production and to not have to do the sort of publicity and promotional appearances that he is obligated to do when he works for a network. He would, however, have to assume all of the cost and risk of such an enterprise — and, according to the man himself, he is losing the gamble, thus far. "I'm millions of dollars in debt right now," he revealed to Howard Stern on Monday, citing the expense of the production and fewer-than-expected subscriptions.

This means that Horace and Pete enters the Emmy race in a position not unlike a show from a broke network would — except that C.K. is apparently willing to go further into debt to procure it a fair hearing. Within the last month, he retained the services of a veteran Emmy consultant who was integrally involved with the winning campaigns of AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad and who immediately began mobilizing a traditional campaign — on a budget. Already lined up for the show are advertising (not from one of the most popular advertising houses but from a firm that specializes in smaller projects); editorial exposure (Buscemi, Falco and Alda are being lined up for press opportunities, and C.K. will be selectively visible too); and screeners (which will be mailed to all members of the TV Academy in the first week of May).

There are no plans, however, to include a "For Your Consideration" event for TV Academy members — the sort of evening for which many networks fly in talent to participate in a Q&A and host a reception with food and beverages at great cost — in either New York or Los Angeles, at least for now.

C.K. could undertake additional measures to finance his show's campaign. For instance, FX might be willing to license Horace and Pete for reruns, which would provide an influx of cash. Or he could use his own celebrity to rally attention for it — he doesn't have obligations to do promotional work for FX this season because Louie didn't air new episodes in the last year, so he has a bit more time. But those sorts of steps would be akin to admitting defeat for the maverick. And besides, as he wrote in a THR guest column a year ago, he hates the very idea of "campaigning":

"I go to the Emmys because there's just too much pressure not to go to the Emmys, and I don't want to be an asshole. But I feel like the awards are for everybody else because I got what I wanted: I got to have a show on TV, and I got paid to do it. … I won't [campaign]. If I'm in [L.A.], they'll get me to do a screening and then talk to some goofy guild members, and I never mind doing that because I know who's actually there. It's not some great privileged people that I'm asking for a handout; it's a bunch of folks who are excited every year that they get to go to those panels. And it makes the network happy. But when I was a kid and I found out that people paid to take classes to take the SATs, it made me really mad. I never got over that. It's part of the reason I didn't go to college. I thought the whole thing was rigged and phony."

Nevertheless, a vigorous Emmys campaign might serve as the most efficient way for C.K. to save his show and get back in the black, since nothing would drive greater interest in — and therefore revenue for — Horace and Pete than some high-profile love from the TV Academy.

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