It took a village to keep “Horace and Pete” under wraps until Louis C.K. was ready to raise the curtain on his self-financed drama series.
M. Blair Breard, C.K.’s producing partner, spoke about the origins of “Horace and Pete” on Thursday during her appearance at Variety‘s Entertainment and Technology Summit in Manhattan. The 10-episode drama series debuted with no advance promotion on Jan. 30, distributed via C.K.’s website. The first episode was offered via streaming or download for $5, with the price dropping to $2 for subsequent episodes that were released each week on Saturdays.
“The most amazing thing really was we were able to keep it quiet,” Breard said. “Nobody knew about it.”
The surprise factor was notable given the level of talent involved with “Horace and Pete,” a story revolving around two brothers and a sister who inherit a bar in New York. In addition to C.K. the series featured Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange and Laurie Metcalf.
C.K.’s goal was to see how audiences would react if he just unveiled a significant production with no advance promotion.
“We asked all the agents, the actors, the crew — we just said let’s join in this experiment, let’s see what happens when we put up the first episode,” Breard said.
C.K. was determined to experiment and see “What does it mean to make something that I want to do but not talk about it, not promote it,” Breard said. As a producer, she was surprised when he told her: “I want to do it small, just us. I don’t want to talk about it. And I want to finance it myself.”
There was some nervousness about whether anyone would turn up for “Horace and Pete,” she admitted. But the reaction to the first episode was like “a bomb,” she said. The pair were inundated with calls from media to discuss the project, but C.K. and Breard still decided to let the show speak for itself. C.K. did pen an introductory note to each episode that was sent out via email to his mailing list.
Each episode cost about $500,000 to produce. C.K. and Breard worked with the unions to get some breaks for the production, but it was still done at a high level.
“It was not a cheap show to make. It’s a hard thing to do in New York,” she said. “We had to pay people to build a set. It wasn’t as cheap as going out on the street and making something.”
Because they were calling all the shots, the turnaround time for each episode on the multi-camera production was a matter of days. “We shot on Wednesday and Thursday, did edit cleanup on Friday and went live (for downloading) on Saturday,” she said.
Overall sales of “Horace and Pete” episodes fell a little short of expectations. But Breard downplayed the suggestion that C.K. has been left destitute from the experience. Last month, C.K.’s remarks about the show on Howard Stern’s Sirius XM radio program fueled reports that C.K. was now penniless.
Breard said C.K. has no regrets because he now has the asset of a 10-episode series that he owns outright.
“You can take the long view or do you have the short view. Will this product grow in value and pay off ultimately?” she said.
The process of producing “Horace and Pete” began last fall as C.K. was weighing whether to do a sixth season of his FX comedy “Louie.” Pig Newton, the company he runs with Breard, is busy producing several other series including FX’s offbeat Zach Galifianakis starrer “Baskets,” which was recently renewed for a second season.
“He came to me after deciding not to do season 6 of ‘Louie’ — he was kind of done,” Breard said. “He’d built that show up from a very tiny little show on FX. But after five seasons he felt like ‘I’ve done this.’ “
Breard left the door open to the possibility that “Louie” could be back down the road.
“Who knows, he may pull a Larry David and go back and say ‘I’m doing season six,’ ” she said, citing the precedent set by the creator-star of the HBO comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”