TCA: FX Chief Says of Charlie Sheen Comedy: 'I Believe in Redemption'

John Landgraf TCA - 2011

John Landgraf appeared before the TV press Sunday to defend the decision to acquire Sheen's inexpensive comedy vehicle, which will debut in June.

To hear FX president John Landgraf tell it, he’s in the risk-taking business.

It is that logic that allowed him to pull the trigger on Charlie Sheen’s comeback comedy vehicle, Anger Management, which is slated for a June launch on FX. The refreshingly candid executive was forced to address the other reasons in his appearance before the Television Critics Association on Sunday, noting that the decision to move forward without a pilot was a clear – and challenging -- departure for the network.

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“I believe in redemption,” Landgraf said of employing Sheen, noting that he is aware that there will be viewers who don’t believe the actor deserves a place in popular culture given his checkered past and treatment of women.

As he sees it, if the project -- and Sheen himself -- came in and took no notice or made no reference to all that came before it, he would have been less interested in moving forward. Instead, the series, for which Landgraf has not yet seen a script, will explore Sheen’s relationship with several women in his life, including his 13-year-old daughter and a still-friendly ex-wife. Producers began the casting process this past week.

Landgraf admits he walked into the pitch with a healthy degree of skepticism, but he was particularly impressed by the pitch along with Sheen and veteran showrunner Bruce Helford’s passion. “You saw a very different Charlie Sheen than you'd been seeing through the press through the end of Two and a Half Men,” he insisted, adding: “What I heard was a really good pitch for a comedy series: funny, complicated and the character Charlie ought to be playing.”

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What’s more, the project’s model – if a 10-episode test hits a certain undisclosed ratings threshold, 90 more will be ordered -- has long made Langraf particularly uncomfortable as he believes deeply in the pilot process, which he argues can teach you a lot about casting and tone. “But the model is the model,” he said of the 10-90 formula, explaining that it’s designed to create a syndication property to pair with Two and a Half Men repeats on his network, which is coming off its highest rated year on record, up more than 20 percent in key demos.

“So rather than sort of ploy for attention and publicity,” Langraf continued, “what it really is is a stab at getting another backend property.” Unlike It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is about to hit the 100-episode mark in its eighth season, Management will be able to hit 90 episodes in two years, assuming it comes out of the gate strong. 

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Similarly appealing for Langraf and his team, Management will be done at a relatively inexpensive price point, with studio Lionsgate putting substantial deficit into the show. For its part, FX will have limited creative input, treating the project more as an off-net one that an FX original. 

"I like the idea," he reiterated of a network "that likes to take risks," touting Sheen as one of the most gifted comedic leads in the sitcom business today. "Beyond that, everything we do is a role of the dice."

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