‘Anger’ looks to find its ratings groove

FX awaits benchmark as showrunner Bruce Helford works on 90-episode back order

Now that the early curiosity factor surrounding “Anger Management” has ebbed, FX is getting closer to understanding what the typical viewer turnout might be for its Charlie Sheen sitcom.

Thursday night’s telecast will mark the show’s third week, and that benchmark often indicates a leveling-off point where shows find their true ratings range.

After a successful June 28 premiere — the two back-to-back episodes averaged 5.6 million total viewers and 2.7 million viewers in the 18-49 demo — “Anger Management,” as expected, came back down last week. It dropped off more than 35% in both total viewers (to 3.4 million) and the demo (to 1.7 million).

While there was a second-week decline, the fact that it aired the day after the July 4 holiday — when many viewers were still on vacation — likely played a role. But it was still the night’s top scripted cable program.

FX is keeping a sharp eye on the numbers, maybe even more so than with other shows, because the series is set up under a business model whereby if the first 10 episodes meet a certain ratings bar, 90 more episodes are automatically ordered.

While that ratings number has never been publicly announced, FX president John Landgraf has previously said it was a “very, very high ratings threshold.” And the first night’s ratings are not included in the calculations.

Despite taking away that big start, the net still believes the show will meet the threshold. FX sent showrunner Bruce Helford and his writing team back to work on Monday to begin shaping the upcoming 90 episodes. The first 10 are already in the can.

The 10/90 business model is the same that “Anger Management” distributors Debmar-Mercury employed on the Tyler Perry series that have aired on TBS: “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns.”

The ratings similarities between “House of Payne” and “Anger Management,” are noteworthy. When “House of Payne” debuted in 2007, it also ran two back-to-back episodes and averaged 5.5 million and 2.8 million in the demo. Week-two numbers saw a drop down to 3.3 million and then to 2.1 million a week later.

If “Anger Management” stays that course, it could be in the 2 million range for Thursday’s episode.

Over the course of the 100 episodes, “House of Payne” averaged 2.9 million total viewers and 1.5 million in the demo.

Helford told Variety that while the Perry production team shot three shows per week to keep up with the 90-episode order, he will do only two.

“Their model didn’t allow for creative input,” Helford said, noting that scripts can sometimes suffer when the cast and crew spends so much time on set filming. “I wanted to create something differently.”

To keep a steady flow between script and set, Helford has hired three more writers, up from the original 10 scribes from the initial 10-episode order.

The immediate burden in shifting to 90 episodes — assuming the risk by FX to start up the writers room pays off — will be on Sheen, who is in practically every scene. Helford said his mission will be to give the other actors more story arcs, to take some pressure off the star.

Sheen, however, told Helford early on, “Keep me busy” — knowing that down time might open the door to trouble. The star is also fiscally invested in the success of the show, which could keep him on the straight and narrow.

“Charlie has a creative and financial investment in this. Way more than ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ” Helford said. “This was his baby and it wouldn’t exist without him. That makes a big difference.”

As for FX’s creative input in the 90 episodes, compared to the first 10, Helford said: “The big discussions were at the beginning, in setting the tone of the show. Notes were minimal after the first couple of episodes. I would expect that to be roughly the same now.”