By Kevin Sullivan
Louis C.K. is wildy successful. He’s won six Emmys, two Grammys and a Peabody. His latest triumph comes on the big screen with his strong reviews for voicing Max, a spoiled terrier, in the animated feature and No. 1 box office hit, “The Secret Life of Pets.”
In addition to his rep as a mega-talented comic/performer/writer/producer/director, C.K. has long been known for his creativity and sophistication in controlling and distributing his own content. After all, he began using his website to sell concert tickets and post-show video downloads as far back as 2001.
Despite his digital media savvy, C.K. recently displayed a surprising lack of traditional media savvy. Here is a quick synopsis:
This past January, C.K. broke the mold again when he released – with no advance promotion or publicity – a self-financed direct-to-web drama/comedy series titled “Horace and Pete.” In addition to C.K., the show’s stellar cast included Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Steven Wright and Jessica Lange.
The 10-episode series soon caught fire as C.K.’s legion of fans began to buy each episode and critical acclaim and positive word of mouth helped thousands of other fans discover the new program.
During an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show, C.K. was asked about reports of his show going broke.
"I'm millions of dollars in debt right now," he told Stern. “I got so excited about having the show appear from nothing. So I made the first four, and I didn’t tell nobody and it made a nice little amount of money. When I got to episode four, I was like, ‘Hey gang, I don’t have any money.’ So I had to take out a line of credit.”
The comments from the Stern show were quickly picked up by the national entertainment media and generated much attention. Reports also made the rounds that “Horace and Pete” had been canceled.
C.K. wasn’t pleased with the way the story was reported and talked about it on an April appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast.
"I'm so not broke," C.K. told Simmons. "It's kind of crazy to see how wrong it gets and to see how far that wrongness spreads.
"I didn't lose money, I invested money," said an exasperated C.K. "I own a complete series. It's an enormous asset and it's mine forever.
“What I’m learning is that news sites don’t do their own research,” C.K. told Simmons. “And nobody called me or my publicist to say, ‘Is it true that this show is canceled?’ because I never said that.
“They (news sites) just check one site and then it grows into this enormous story.”
Of course the story grew quickly – that’s how it works today. And while C.K. grew frustrated that so many in the media were getting it so wrong, he apparently did nothing to set the record straight until the wrong narrative had taken hold.
Listening to C.K. on the Simmons podcast, I was struck that a person so skilled when it comes to creating and carefully managing his own scripted content, was so ill-prepared to do the same in an unscripted setting.
Today, there is no difference.