Charlie Sheen is returning to series television, but whether a showrunner, advertisers and a network buyer are ready to join the actor is an open question given his turbulent career.
Lionsgate announced Monday a deal to have Sheen star in a sitcom based on the 2003 feature “Anger Management.” Series will be exec produced by Joe Roth through his Revolution Studios shingle and shopped to cable and syndie buyers under the model Lionsgate’s distribution arm, Debmar-Mercury, has used with several Tyler Perry-produced series.
Project marks Sheen’s first major TV pact since he was fired earlier this year from Warner Bros. TV’s “Two and a Half Men.” This time around he will have an ownership stake in the series, which has no producers or talent beyond Sheen asyet. No timetable is set as to when the series will air.
“Anger” is likely to raise concerns as to how a Sheen-led project can be viable considering the various constituencies that could be skittish about working with Sheen.
There’s a limited number of cable channels where an edgy comedic half-hour could fit in, including Comedy Central, Spike and FX. TBS, which has a handful of original comedies on the air, has already publicly stated it has no intent to work with Sheen.
Inquiries made to a number of potential cable buyers elicited a range of reactions to the Sheen project, from mild interest to outright rejection.
“It’s subject to the creative,” said FX topper John Landgraf. “If it’s really good, I don’t know. I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. The truth is, really good shows come from the strangest places.”
Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media, believes Madison Avenue will be willing to give Sheen a chance. “I think a lot of advertisers would be intrigued,” he said. “Sheen’s issues took place off-camera not on ‘Men.’ If viewers are willing to watch him, the ad dollars will follow.”
No showrunner has been hired yet for “Anger,” which is the next order of business for the companies involved. Once they make that hire, the series will be taken out to potential buyers.
That said, “Anger” may find limited interest from experienced producers loath to helm a show given all that has been reported about on-set difficulties between Sheen and “Men” creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre.
As one showrunner who requested anonymity so delicately put it with regard to the prospect of working with Sheen, “You couldn’t pay me enough money to touch him with a sterilized 10-foot pole.”
The arrangement with Sheen would be similar to the unique business model Debmar-Mercury has adhered to for projects like “Are We There With Yet?” with TBS, which Roth also produced. Sheen would have a stake in the project as Tyler Perry did with “Yet,” whereby he’d be guaranteed to deliver a limited number of episodes that would definitely be put on air. If the ratings reach a mutually agreed threshold, the network has to make a large, multi-season episode order that would ensure the series reaches the 90-episode mark that makes it conducive for syndication.
In the case of another TBS/Perry/Debmar collaboration, “House of Payne,” a 10-episode order did well enough in 2006 to trigger an additional 100-episode order from TBS, as well as an ensuing syndication buy from Fox’s station group.
That unusual business model isn’t always successful; Debmar-Mercury tried to bring a sitcom featuring Jon Heder to Comedy Central last year but it failed to materialize. However, it’s this kind of deal structure that will incentivize Sheen to do his damnedest to make the series a success; the payout for just shooting the episodes he’s on the hook for would pale in comparison to what the formerly highest-paid actor in scripted TV could make should the series reach syndication.
Sheen, of course, is the question mark at the center of “Anger.” His camp has given his new partners assurances that he is physically and mentally ready to return to the rigors of series production but there’s no guarantee he could stay that way in the long term even if he were currently clean. While that could be problematic in terms of insuring Sheen, sources indicate there are alternatives that would allow the actor to sidestep such a hurdle.
The sitcom isn’t the only pending Sheen project for TV. Thesp has agreed to be the star of a Comedy Central Roast on Sept. 19 — the same night “Two and a Half Men” returns to the air with Ashton Kutcher, who signed onto the CBS series to replace Sheen back in May.
(Stuart Levine contributed to this report.)