Winning (Really)! Sheen Sitcom Is Already Big Business

2012-22 REP Anger Charlie Sheen Selma Blair H
David Strick

Charlie Sheen and co-star Selma Blair, who plays his best friend and therapist-with-benefits. "They're wonderful together," Helford says of the pair.

It hasn't even aired, but the Warlock's show is selling overseas, lining up sponsors and secretly gearing up for season two.

When Charlie Sheen and his Anger Management cast wrapped shooting May 1 on the Sun Valley, Calif., set, nobody believed the first 10 episodes of the show would be their last. That's a sizable turnaround from six months ago.

When FX first announced a trial run of the Sheen sitcom, it was widely perceived in Hollywood as a risky bet on a ticking time bomb. Now, barring an unexpected meltdown or viewer indifference, the venture with Sheen, 46, is looking like a shrewd move, with international buyers and advertisers alike lining up to be a part of it.

In fact, THR has learned that FX and studio Lionsgate already have given their vote of confidence by allowing creator Bruce Helford and his writing staff to head back to work July 9, several weeks before they'll have official word on a pickup. It's a roughly $700,000 gamble that the first batch of Anger episodes, which begin airing June 28, will meet an undisclosed ratings threshold and be granted an additional 90-episode order per the arrangement with distributor Debmar-Mercury. (The first two episodes, no doubt boosted by intense curiosity, will not count toward the final tally; and the later episodes cannot see a dramatic audience drop-off.)

While the network is keeping mum on details, sources say Anger is selling at the highest CPM rates FX has ever seen for a first-year series. For weeks, the first four episodes of the series loosely based on the 2003 movie have been sold out thanks to a mix of eager car, booze and movie studio advertisers. (Fiat signed on as a presenting sponsor.)

It's more impressive considering the timing, says Fox Cable Entertainment's executive vp ad sales Bruce Lefkowitz. "From an ad-sales perspective, we didn't have the opportunity to sell this in last year's upfront," he explains, noting that the series is set to bow in late June, one of the lowest-demand weeks of the year for ad dollars. "The fact that advertisers found a way to create budgets to support the show speaks to the optimism and excitement in the market."

Lionsgate, too, already has cashed in on the comedy. The studio, which with Debmar will begin peddling Anger to stations for a fall 2014 syndication debut, has sold the series in Canada, Latin America, Germany, Scandinavia and Australia for roughly $600,000 an episode, more than what established hits Seinfeld and Sheen's own Two and a Half Men commanded out of the gate.

Collectively, Lionsgate is expected to generate in the neighborhood of $1 million an episode in international sales, according to sources, who suggest buyers are interested in getting either a Men companion (as FX has) or a Sheen vehicle because they missed out on Men.

"If this works, financially and creatively, it will completely change how everybody does their projects," Helford says of the model first used with Tyler Perry's House of Payne, which enables producers to shoot two episodes a week. On that expedited timeline, Anger's 10 episodes will cost in the neighborhood of $10 million total, significantly less than the $1.3 million to $1.6 million an episode that a first-year multicamera sitcom typically costs.

As Helford sees it, the actors benefit, too: "They have the opportunity to do 100 episodes in two years, see the financial benefit of that and then move on to another project and reinvent themselves creatively."