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Louis C.K. Drops Surprise New Drama 'Horace And Pete' Online
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Louis C.K. Drops Surprise New Drama 'Horace And Pete' Online

Television

Louis C.K. Drops Surprise New Drama 'Horace And Pete' Online

Louis C.K. Drops Surprise New Drama 'Horace And Pete' Online
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Comedian Louis C.K. is experimenting again with how he distributes programs. He has begun selling a comedy/drama series with a stellar cast online for $5 per episode. NPR explores the show and its business model.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Comedian Louis C.K. has surprised his fans by releasing the first episode of a new TV show online without any announcement. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show is an ambitious new chapter in the comic's history of delivering material directly to the public.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HORACE AND PETE")

PAUL SIMON: (Singing) Hell no...

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It starts with a mournful theme from a master of mournful pop balance, Paul Simon. But the first episode of "Horace And Pete," Louis C.K.'s comic drama about a century-old family-run bar picks up steam quickly. Parts of the program might've been written last week as Steve Buscemi's barkeep, Pete, talks over the election with a regular customer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HORACE AND PETE")

KURT METZGER: (As bar patron) Wait, why not Trump?

STEVE BUSCEMI: (As Pete) Because he's a jerk, drops out of the debates, and I don't know. I think he'd ruin this country.

METZGER: (As bar patron) Listen, man. If we vote for him, that just means we want to go down. So let us go down. That's just how a democracy declines, right? The populous degenerates until we elect a guy like that, and he just ruins what's left.

DEGGANS: Yeah, this isn't cheers. Some scenes here feel like wonderfully repurposed bits from Louis C.K.'s stand up. The episode, written and directed by Louis C.K., unfolds like an off-Broadway play about the consequences of dysfunctional parenting and families. Louis C.K. is Horace, owner of a Brooklyn bar his family founded in 1916. He runs the place with his brother, Pete, and every generation of their family has had a Horace and Pete, but they're both overshadowed by their uncle - also named Pete - who is a sexist, racist, abusive mook played with relish by longtime TV good guy Alan Alda. Here, Alda's Uncle Pete challenges a millennial customer who called him racist.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HORACE AND PETE")

ALAN ALDA: (As Uncle Pete) Racist is what you do, not what you say. This place ain't racist. We served coloreds here in the '30s.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Oh, my God.

ALDA: (As Uncle Pete) Yeah. Nobody would serve boogies in those days.

DEGGANS: Well, that clears that right up. Sparks fly when Horace and Pete's sister, played by Edie Falco, shows up with a lawyer to take control of the bar. But Louis C.K. is also stirring things up by the way he delivered this episode - no promotion, no explanation, just available for download for $5 - quite a bit more than your average TV episode on Amazon or iTunes. This isn't new for him. Louis C.K. has also used his website to release comedy specials, sell tickets to his concerts and even sell an old film he made in the 1990s. In 2011, the comic told fans he made a million dollars in 12 days from online sales of a stand-up concert video, detailing how much he paid himself, his staff and even some charities. He explained his thinking that year on WHYY's Fresh Air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LOUIS C.K.: I just, I thought this might be interesting to give this a try - put it on my website, make it $5, make it really, really easy for people to watch and to buy and to enjoy, to make it as close to a viral video as possible.

DEGGANS: "Horace And Pete" feels like the next step in that experiment - an ongoing trial in cutting out the middleman, at least for select projects - no cable channel or network to suck up profits or influence content, just the performers and the audience. It's hard to know how successful this experiment has been. Unlike earlier projects, Louis C.K. hasn't revealed much about "Horace And Pete" yet, including when or whether there'll be more episodes. His publicist declined a request for comment. Still, while it's not a revolution that will topple the TV industry, "Horace And Pete" is a signal to other performers. In a digital world, they can bring the right project directly to the people with quality and immediacy. I'm Eric Deggans.

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