More than any other show on television, "Louie" reflects the vision of just one man. Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. is the star, writer, producer, director and editor of a show that's a fictionalized version of his life a single father raising his daughters in New York City.
And he doesn't accept any interference from the FX Network, which is paying for and airing his offbeat comedy.
"I just want to do the show without anybody talking to anybody who's not involved with the show," C.K. said. "I shouldn't put a single ounce of energy into anything but making the show good. And every time you walk away from that, you [expletive] the show up."
A lot of TV producers talk like that. Occasionally, one of them acts like that. But like "Community" creator/writer/executive producer Dan Harmon, they end up getting fired.
Not C.K., who actually meant what he said. He recalled that FX executives wanted to be involved in the casting of "Louie." "So I'd say, 'Well, let's not do the show then,' " he said.
That worked because it wasn't a negotiating ploy. C.K. meant it, and the FX executives knew he meant it.
"You have to be willing to not do the show and not get the money and all that stuff," he said. "If you're concerned with the success too much, then you make all kinds of decisions and compromises that hurt the actual stories that you're telling."
C.K. paid for control the old fashioned way. He accepted less money from FX in return for creative control.
Reportedly, he accepted $250,000 (including his salary) per episode, a number that would have jumped to as much as $350,000 if he agreed to take network notes.
"We're very happy with our deal and with our show," said FX president John Landgraf. "It's being watched by 3 million viewers a week."
That's the number C.K. won't accept."No, that's just a lie," he said. "There's not 3 million people watching."
FX insists its ratings numbers are correct. But C.K. can't quite accept that, after a quarter of a century in show business, he's a big success.
A big part of the reason C.K. could strike a deal like this is that he's on FX. The network has a history of giving producers latitude with everything from "The Shield" to "Rescue Me" to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." FX works with much smaller budgets than broadcast networks.
But there aren't many stand-up comedians who would be willing to walk away from a deal to produce and star in their own TV show.
"The reason I got away with it is because I'm good enough at it after years of trying and failing," said C.K., who struggled for years, writing for David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock and "Saturday Night Live," performing stand-up and as a screenwriter.
HBO canceled his previous series, "Lucky Louie," after a dozen episodes.
"If they don't let me do it the way that it should be done, I just won't do it," he said. "And one thing that enables me to do that is I can go on the road and do comedy. I could just go do stand-up. I don't need this [expletive]. I really don't."
At the same time, he repeatedly expressed gratitude for the opportunity.
"This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me," said C.K., adding that he's "eternally grateful" to FX executives.
"I don't know why they gave me this much freedom. If I was running FX, I would never have given me what they've given me. It was irresponsible, and it was not a good idea."
Season 3 of "Louie"
The third-season premiere of "Louie" is Thursday, June 28, at 11 p.m. on FX.