The third season of comedian Louis C.K.'s strange and brilliant series Louie premieres on FX tonight at 10:30 p.m., which is cause for celebration. C.K. is doing perhaps the most interesting thing on television today: Running a show — as star, producer, writer, and director — like a true auteur. FX gives him an incredible amount of creative freedom and he uses it with wild, wonderful abandon. It's a fruitful arrangement, and it makes us wonder if it's a model that is specific to C.K. or if it could, somehow, be recreated with other artists, thus ushering in a brand new kind of television.
C.K.'s independent spirit doesn't stop at his television show. He just essentially sold out his upcoming tour by offering tickets exclusively through his own website. That meant no annoying Ticketmaster middleman, no service charges, etc. He set one flat, reasonable price of $45 and uncomplicated the process, and it appears to have paid off. He had similar success offering a recent filmed special online; downloads cost a mere $5. C.K. is doing something that we're tempted to call revolutionary: Becoming his own kind of one-man media/distribution/booking company. (Well, he's got help, obviously, but he's certainly heavily involved.) Can he sustain it though?
Chances are he's suddenly got lots of emailing and phone calling to do about venues and ticketing and other facets of his tour. And he's certainly got his hands full with all the work he does on his TV show. So when does the energy tank run dry? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe C.K. has found a pace and rhythm that works for him and he can just keep chugging along, a million octopus hands in a million different things, for as long as he wants to. But, really, the guy is only human. It seems inevitable that all this independence, all this DIY stuff, will eventually become a bit too much to bear. Either way, we're curious to see it play out, as we'd like more people to try the same strategies.
C.K.'s biggest coup is his independently run television show. It's great that FX is so giving with C.K., but who's to say they'd do the same for somebody else? HBO and AMC have shows with fiercely hands-on creators, but those guys are just the writers, they're not performing and directing too. While there might not actually be many other people with the same omni-creative drive as C.K., just imagine Sarah Silverman with the expansive freedom to run and play and do whatever she wants. Or Amy Sedaris! She could do something great and weird and beautiful. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have their own autonomous little comedy laboratory over on Adult Swim, but what if they were given a bigger platform, and maybe the opportunity to get a little serious with it? These could be amazing creative adventures, and we'd hope that the success of the Louie model would encourage some network executives to at least consider striking up a similar deal with another eccentric genius. Maria Bamford needs a show, Comedy Central. Just saying.
On the flip side, there's a chance that C.K. is ruining this for everyone. Is he placing too much expectation on other people to design, build, and steer their own ships? There's a chance the critical success of Louie will create a new breed of wannabe auteurs, people who actually need some help and guidance but now want to do everything on their own. Lucky for them, and us, it's unlikely that a TV network would just hand over a budget and say see you at the wrap party the way they have with C.K. No, his deal so far seems to be a rare one. We'd like to see more versions of it, but it's not an organizational structure that would work for everyone.
Right now we're just happy to have C.K. sharing his singular vision. Not since the tragically, but beautifully, short-lived Chappelle's Show has something felt so personal and specific to a particular comedian/thinker's sensibility. It's a joy to wander around in Louie's imagination, a fully realized and self-constructed place. We'd be curious to experience the same with someone else, provided they're the right someone else.