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Louis CK on New York, Money, and the Long-Awaited Season 4 of Louie

At a Paley Festival panel with TIME's TV critic, the comic teased season 4, coming in May, and talked about making great TV on a tight budget

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Chloe Apple Seldman/Michael Priest for The Paley Center for Media

Blair Breard and Louis CK at the Paley Center for Media, Oct. 3

It’s been a long wait, Louie fans. It’ll be a longer wait yet. But new episodes are finally in the pipeline, ready to come climbing out of that subway station and onto your TV next spring.

Last night as part of the Paley Center’s Made in NY television festival, I moderated a panel with Louis CK and his Louie co-executive producer Blair Breard, who said that Louie season 4 went into production this week, with the goal of returning to FX next May.

The comedian/actor/director/&c said he took a long-than-usual break between seasons to regain some semblance of a life, as well as to avoid the chaotic production schedule of the show’s first three seasons, when he would be promoting the show’s premiere while still writing and shooting new episodes. For the first time, he’s written a full season of scripts before shooting begins, allowing for a little more polish and ambition in the season.

What kind of ambition, Louis CK wouldn’t specify exactly, though he said the new season will include more stories that span more than one episode as well as shorter ones. There will be more straight-ahead comedic episodes, as well as some that “I have a stomach ache about.”

(One multi-part story for next year, he says, was originally an idea for a movie. Interestingly, he added, that was also the genesis of the season 1 “God” episode–about Louie’s past as a religiously-guilty kid–except that the movie involved statues of the crucified Jesus coming to life and strangling people.)

Before the panel, the Paley Center screened two episodes, which exemplified the show’s range of tones: “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 2,” a sweet, disturbing first-date story (guest-starring Parker Posey), which includes some glorious scenes of the city at night; and “Barney/Never,” which climaxes in a shot of a kid soaking in a diarrhea-polluted bathtub. (First question, of course, had to be how they simulated the fouled tub. Sawdust is involved.)

“Daddy’s Girlfriend,” Louis CK said, is an example of how New York City permeates the show, both visually and in character. Because Louie shoot almost entirely on location–a move that cuts costs while making it look more expensive–it can capture both the city’s sleaze and glorious scenes like a montage of Posey and Louis CK gorging on cured fish at Russ and Daughters. And the Posey character, he said, reflected some dates he had in his early days in the city. The thing about New York: “There are a lot of crazy people who don’t look crazy.”

A few other topics that came up, in our interview and in questions from the audience:

* Last year’s finale, “New Year’s Eve,” was shot partly in Beijing (though Breard first suggested they shoot in Chinatown). One problem, once they arrived in China, was how much of it in fact “looks like Columbus, Ohio.” On the plus side: it’s much easier to shoot on the street in China compared with NYC, “because people don’t have rights.”

* An audience member asked about a scene in season 3, in which a character played by Melissa Leo roughly forces Louie to reciprocate oral sex. Louis CK said he didn’t consider the scene rape–“She did what she had to do,” he said drily–though he acknowledged an earlier episode in which his character appears to be molested under anesthesia by a dentist. Asked if FX had issues with the content, he joked, “I said, either I get raped, or I’m not doing the show.”

* Toughest place to shoot in New York City? What’s the toughest place to do anything in New York City? Yep, the subway.

* Could a big network make a show like Louie? No, he said, nor should they. When you’re making a show for millions of dollars an episode, “that money comes with a lot of people looking after the money,” as well as advertisers who don’t want to be near offensive content. “Our advertisers are, what, Red Stripe beer? They don’t give a fuck what we’re doing!”

And that’s as it should be, he said. Louie, he said, isn’t a show for millions of people. “This is for a few of us,” he said, gesturing to the small, sold-out auditorium, “to get together and enjoy a tub of diarrhea.”