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An Unrepentant Charlie Sheen Prepares to Shop A New Show; Will Anybody Bite?

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
July 19, 2011

An official press release yesterday (you can read it here) sent out the word that Charlie Sheen, who was fired from his wildly popular sitcom Two And A Half Men this spring after a series of bizarre interviews and public appearances but before a live national tour that played okay in some places and disastrously in others, wants back into series television.

Sheen is working with Joe Roth, who’s been a producer on some of Sheen’s films, including Major League and Young Guns, on a TV adaptation of Anger Management, the 2003 film starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. The series would be produced by Lionsgate Television and distributed by Debmar-Mercury, which also handles the TBS shows Tyler Perry’s House Of Payne and Meet The Browns.

Of course, many shows are proposed; substantially fewer make it on the air.

The press release is upbeat and conspicuously quotes Sheen making light of his public eruptions, mugging that “it might be a big stretch for me to play a guy with serious anger management issues,” but it otherwise doesn’t confront the fact that the last series Sheen was carrying had to be temporarily shut down more than once before Warner Brothers Television and CBS showed him the door, replacing him with Ashton Kutcher, who will join Men this fall.

It also doesn’t mention that Sheen is now in litigation with Warner Brothers and with Chuck Lorre, the Two And A Half Men show runner with whom Sheen feuded so publicly. What it does pointedly mention is that Sheen will have an ownership interest in the show: “Our sitcom model is all about building well-known brands around extraordinary talents like Charlie that, thanks to their large profit participation, are highly motivated to succeed.”

Highly motivated to succeed. In other words, one presumes: Profit participation is how they intend to avoid what happened at his last job. So if you believe that Sheen’s issues at his last show were merely intransigence or misplaced whimsy and all he needed was motivation, then this seems like a logical solution.

The press release is pretty open about the fact that the draw of the proposed new show has little to do with any expectations of actual quality — the president of Lionsgate Television says they like shows that are “noisy, accessible and relevant.” In other words: they get attention, they’re simple, and they … well, when we say “relevant,” we’re pretty much back to “they get attention.” I’m sure it would be a bonus if the show were good, but that doesn’t seem to be why they want to make it.

Here’s the thing: Nobody else has agreed to get involved with this yet. Not a network, not any other actors, and not a show runner — the term applied to a show’s lead producer/writer type who calls the shots, as Chuck Lorre did on Men (and does along with other producers on CBS’s Mike & Molly and The Big Bang Theory). In case you’ve forgotten how things worked out with Sheen and Lorre (other than the lawsuit), here’s the letter Sheen released to TMZ after Lorre decided to continue the show without him. (Warning: strong language.) “Reap the whirlwind, you cockroach,” Sheen signs off. “Reap it.”

Sooooo, who wants to be his next boss? Anyone? Everybody excited about being on the crew, or being one of his co-stars, like poor Jon Cryer, who stayed out of the whole thing and found himself called a troll as a result?

As for finding a network to actually put the show on television, The Hollywood Reporter has a good rundown this morning in which it explains that with Sheen in the middle of suing Warner Brothers Television, it doesn’t seem tremendously likely that other Time Warner outlets — like TNT or TBS, the latter of which works with Debmar-Mercury on House Of Payne and Meet The Browns — will want to pick up the show.

FX is mentioned as a possibility, but FX is working on a pretty sophisticated brand these days, where their current comedies include critics’ darlings like Louie and Archer. Shifting gears to a project that seems overwhelmingly likely to turn into a sideshow doesn’t seem terribly on message for them. Comedy Central and Spike TV seem perhaps more likely — Spike is my own purely gut reaction as the most logical spot for the show — but at that point, you’re getting into fairly low-profile spaces as far as scripted comedy.

As we’ve discussed in this space before, so much money gets attached to these deals that you can’t really predict what might happen the way you would if this were just a regular guy trying to get his next job after ending his last job the way he did. Even as a sideshow, even as an instantly imploding disaster, a Sheen show might make money for somebody — some agents and lawyers, if nobody else. Maybe somebody will take it.

But remember: Even with all that money at stake, even with the inevitability of the lawsuit, even with other people’s jobs at risk if they couldn’t successfully reboot the show, Sheen’s last show eventually fired him. They voluntarily ripped a key piece of machinery out of one of the most successful money factories on television. Things actually got that bad. (The Daily Beast published one of the more thorough accounts of how at least some witnesses saw it, if you’re willing to take the word of crew members who didn’t want to be named.)

To try again so soon, when little has apparently changed for Sheen, is to assume that there is money to be made from Charlie Sheen without making compromises you can’t live with, but CBS and Warner Brothers and Chuck Lorre weren’t able to find the right formula — or that they couldn’t live with things you decide you can live with. It is to believe he can successfully work on a weekly sitcom if you give him enough “motivation.” It is to believe any problems he has that disrupt production are of the “he can knock all this off any time he wants to, if he stands to make money from pulling it together” variety.

There are a lot of networks, broadcast and cable. There are a lot of ways to produce and distribute shows. If this all goes perfectly, Sheen could get rich. (For the sunniest possible view, check out this analysis in Forbes.)

But that assumes you can get a show’s worth of folks to sign up to voluntarily take the ride that Lorre, Cryer, Warner Brothers, and CBS just stepped off. And it assumes that when Sheen eventually gets back, he’ll have something left of his audience other than his gawking Twitter followers. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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