Big-budget independent television is still a dream

This year, Louis C. K. debuted Horace and Pete, an original dramedy television show that he independently produced and released exclusively through his website. The show itself is apparently very good, but its production model caught much of the attention: C. K. financed the entire thing himself, something never attempted for a show with production values like Horace and Pete. Has the media marketplace evolved to the point where it can support independent artistic larks like this?

Evidently – and unfortunately – no. Louis C. K. revealed this week that the first season of Horace and Pete left him several million dollars in debt. Each of the show’s ten episodes, with a star-studded cast including Alan Alda, Edie Falco, and Steve Buscemi, cost about $500,000 to produce (cheap for television), and C. K. never saw the return on investment he expected. The same strategy that helped the comedian sell stand-up specials doesn’t seem to scale to full television production.

Independent television shows are still possible on a much smaller scale; Broad City started as a no-budget web series. But Louis C. K.’s struggles with Horace and Pete serve as a reminder that, even in an age of television everywhere, somebody still foots the bill.

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