What the Success of Louis CK Might Mean for the Future of Television

When we first got wind of Louis CK’s plan to disrupt the traditional means of distributing content by offering up a brand new standup special for an affordable through his personal website louisck.net, our first thought was where do we sign-up? Our second thought — after eagerly handing over our $5 to CK via a hassle free payment system and enjoying his unique brand of self-deprecating and hilarious humor was — could this business model work for the rest of Hollywood?
It’s a question we’ve actually been pondering for quite some time when we weren’t otherwise occupied scanning our Twitter feed for increasingly painful-to-read tweets from the clearly disheartened creators of COMMUNITY (@danharmon) and COUGAR TOWN (@vdoozer). Both of whom who have been forced to helplessly standby as their respective Broadcast Networks quietly begin to withdraw their support for their critically acclaimed albeit ratings anemic shows under the very watchful eye of new leadership. Could a model that saw Louis CK’s loyal fans numbering 100,000 (and counting) generate upwards of half a million dollars (and counting) for the privilege of receiving a fantastic piece of DRM-free entertainment at a drastically reduced price work to save a struggling show such as a COMMUNITY or COUGAR TOWN?  Well, after much thought and a little bit of number crunching we’ve come to this conclusion that, well, it’s just not that simple.

Forgetting for a moment that CK’s one-hour standup special which requires a limited crew and no writing staff or actors to speak of is an entirely different animal from a single camera comedy that undoubtedly employs hundreds of talented people both in front and behind the camera, consider the following: If your average episode of COMMUNITY or COUGAR TOWN costs around 2 million dollars an episode to produce, one would need to raise 26 million dollars for a 13 episode season (Note: We’re dreaming small here!). Divide that 26 million by $32.50 (Ie: The cost of 13 episodes at $2.50 per piece) and what you’re left with is 800,000 contributors needed to turn this pipe-dream into a reality. And while we don’t pretend to know whether or not that many people would be willing to shell out that kind of money on top of their already over-stretched entertainment dollar (see: cable bills, internet access, Netflix, Video Games and what have you) we sure as heck would love for a talent like Bill Lawrence or Dan Harmon to find out. 

And not just because the talented twosomes’ tweets are increasingly sounding like a desperate cry for help. But rather because, as the likes of Radiohead already illustrated in the music world and CK just did in the comedic one, it’s going to take a talent with an already established and fiercely loyal following to leverage the power of their audience to make something like this work. Of course, herein lies the crux of problem. While it’s easy to casually add up a few hundred thousand fans, multiply some random dollar figure by a number of episodes and scratch your head and wonder why [insert your favorite showrunner] hasn’t given [insert your least favorite network] the proverbial middle finger and gone out on his (or her) own. One mustn’t discount the role the giant media conglomerate has played in the success of the show you love so dear.

A passionate fandom is not built in a vacuum. The likes of NBC, CBS and their respective production partners have sunk millions upon millions of dollars into creating, promoting and nurturing these shows over the course of the past three years. Thus, the question isn’t so much whether you’d pay to keep COUGAR TOWN or COMMUNITY alive, but if you’d be willing to pony up $32.50 for Bill Lawrence or Dan Harmon’s next untitled project that may-or-may-not star Joel McHale or Courteney Cox. Just a little something everyone needs to remember before you go about starting that Kickstarter campaign.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve always thought that I would gladly pay 5 bucks a week to see NASCAR races without the inane commercials.  But a regular TV show….not so much.  There’s just too much to choose from right now.  There are lots of shows I would like to watch, but the DVR is full.