I was listening to an old episode of The Business, a fantastic KCRW podcast about the entertainment industry. The president of FX, John Landgraf, was on discussing how his small cable channel beat out the big four networks for the show that became Louie. (You can listen to the interview below. It starts at the 5:45 mark.) He explains that Louis was pitching two shows. One was a traditional sitcom about “a newly divorced single dad who had shared custody of these two daughters.” The other, a show of short films with “no real organizing principle behind them.” This is what Landgraf told Louis:
“You’re not going to like this because you’re going to end up with one show and not two, but the truth of the matter is you’re a great filmmaker, why don’t you make your films but orientate them around what you want to make your sitcom about, which is to say your present tense life as a working comedian and a newly single father of two daughters, so there is an emotional realism and an emotional grounding? Within that, you can make your films about anything you encounter in life, anything you want to do. And because you’re a stand-up, we don’t have to do a structure where there is an A-scene and a B-scene and a C-scene and a D-scene, where everything is narratively organized and ordered. You can just basically not do any scene you don’t want to do. Just do the meat of what you want to tell the story about and you have a matrix you can organize around, which is your stand-up comedy. Other than that you can do literally anything you want.”
Sound familiar? If this is true, then man, was he super right. The randomness, the surrealism of Louie works because there is such a solid core to it. He continues to talk about telling Louis to ignore focus group feedback and agreeing to never give Louis note by offering him a per-episode budget so low that News Corp wouldn’t notice. Sometimes these network execs know what they’re doing.