The “rock star from Mars” has landed — in another TV show.
Four months after getting axed from CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” when he publicly attacked his bosses, Charlie Sheen was officially announced Monday as the star in “Anger Management,” a proposed sitcom adaptation that seems destined for basic cable and is loosely based on the 2003 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. Sheen will play the Nicholson character, a provocative doctor with some odd therapeutic techniques.
According to a release, Sheen will retain “a significant ownership stake” in the show, whose producers will include former Walt Disney Studios chairman and Revolution Studios founder Joe Roth. Lionsgate Television will be among the producers while the company’s distribution arm, Debmar-Mercury, will scout for network partners. That assumes, of course, that Sheen — who made “Duh! Winning!” a national catchphrase — can win back the TV industry’s trust enough for network bosses to roll the dice with him again.
“I chose ‘Anger Management’ because, while it might be a big stretch for me to play a guy with serious anger management issues, I think it is a great concept,” a characteristically cheeky Sheen said in a statement. “It also provides me with real ownership in the series, a certain amount of creative control and the chance to be back in business with one of my favorite movie producers of all time, Joe Roth.”
Through a spokesman, Sheen and Roth declined to be interviewed.
Sheen had reportedly been negotiating for the project, but many crucial details are still being worked out. The release sent out Monday morning does not say when filming will start, who his costars or lead writers will be or, most important, which network might air the project.
Debmar-Mercury, which syndicates fare such as “The Wendy Williams Show,” says that for “Anger Management” it will use an unusual sitcom business model it helped pioneer. Traditionally, TV producers spend months developing a pilot and then angling for a series order from network bosses. But in this case, a network partner will be asked to order a limited number of episodes upfront — perhaps 10 or fewer. If the early episodes deliver good ratings, the network will then be obligated to order 90 more episodes — thus enabling the syndicator to hit the magic number of 100 that makes it easier to sell lucrative reruns to local stations.
Debmar-Mercury has employed this approach for a batch of Tyler Perry sitcoms on TBS, including “House of Payne,” “Meet the Browns” and “Are We There Yet?”
Sheen was one of TV’s highest-paid stars on “Two and a Half Men,” with a per-episode paycheck that approached $2 million. He could conceivably see another astronomical payday as a profit participant on “Anger Management” — but only if the series taps that rich syndicated market.
The big question now is which network might bite.
An NBC spokesman declined to comment, but an insider said the network won’t bid on Sheen’s new project. A CBS spokesman declined to comment, but it’s a long shot at best that the nation’s most-watched network would bid on Sheen’s new comedy after enduring a high-wire drama with the actor the past several years. Representatives for Fox and ABC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sheen’s drug problems forced “Two and a Half Men” to shut down production two years in a row; in the middle of his at-home rehab earlier this year, he took to bashing his bosses on radio programs, Internet and TV news shows, calling his boss, executive producer Chuck Lorre, a “spineless rat” and dubbing himself a “rock star from Mars” who did not play by the usual human rules. That kind of record would make Sheen — whatever his outlaw appeal to many fans — a risk to any broadcaster worried about advertising and viewer reactions.
“His personal, professional and business unpredictability make him a real gamble for any channel that would be considering him,” said Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University. “I can’t imagine any of the big four networks taking a chance on him, not just because of the unpredictability, but because of the potential bad PR that could accompany the association.”
But a smaller cable network could be another story, McCall added. “Cable channels are not necessarily expected to provide cultural or programming leadership, so there is less to lose if the Sheen program crashed for whatever reason,” he said. “I can see this show ending up on TBS, FX, USA or some other cable outlet that does original programming, but to smaller, targeted demos.” (A sale to TBS could prove problematic, however, as the outlet is owned by Time Warner, whose TV studio fired Sheen from “Men” and is currently embroiled in litigation with the actor over his removal from the series.)
Roth and Sheen previously worked on several movie projects together, including “Major League,” one of Sheen’s biggest hits.
“Who better than Charlie Sheen to tackle ‘Anger Management,’” Roth said in the release. “With Charlie’s incredible talent and comedic gifts, he remains the leading man of TV sitcoms. I’m excited to collaborate with him once again.”
The producers of “Two and a Half Men” eventually hired Ashton Kutcher to replace Sheen and the No. 1-ranked comedy is slated to return to CBS Monday nights in the fall.
The good news for Sheen is that he likely has yet to exhaust the patience of American viewers, who seem to have an unquenchable thirst for celebrities who behave badly.
As McCall put it, “In this day and age, it is hard to see any American celebrity as permanently damaged goods.”