There’s an article in The Hollywood Reporter this week about Debmar-Mercury’s potentially revolutionizing formula for television syndication, and I wanted to read it and think about the future of TV, but I got stuck on one of the details in the article. Debmar’s syndication deal is a “10/90” structure, meaning they make a ten-episode first season, and if that hits pre-determined ratings marks, another 90 episodes is automatically ordered and produced. The net result is a show virtually guaranteed syndication (for which you need 100 episodes), and all the profits that come from those lucrative deals. One of the only shows on TV following this structure is the FX Channel’s sitcom, Anger Management, starring post-bender Charlie Sheen. Its first season performed well enough to trigger the 90 episode order from which, THR reports, Sheen stands to make up to two hundred million dollars.
Charlie Sheen, one of the worst-behaved celebrities in recent memory, leveraged his notoriety into a television deal that is going to earn him hundreds of millions of dollars. This is, of course, on top of the one hundred million he already got from his Two and a Half Men payout. So what is the lesson here? That being a batsh*t insane assh*le pays? Or should we just accept that Sheen is not crazy but is, in fact, an evil genius? (I’m really leaning toward “evil genius” at this point.) It’s an incredible arc—Sheen went from what looked like a career-ending, albeit highly entertaining, bender to the beneficiary of one of the most lucrative deals in TV.
Part of the formula is the leveraging of Sheen’s notoriety—his character has a history of losing his temper and wreaking havoc that is “torn from the headlines”, so to speak—but part of it has also been his rehabilitation. In order to make the maximum profit of two hundred million, Sheen has to be not only able to shoot ninety episodes this year, but to sell them and keep the audience interested. To that end, he’s been making talk show appearances, including an appearance on the Dr. Oz Show where Sheen speaks quite bluntly about his problems. He’s still jittery and smarmy, but it’s a far cry from his dick behavior during his 20/20 interview a couple years ago.
He also appeared on The View, where the ladies were enthusiastic and sympathetic, despite Sheen’s dicey-to-violent history with women. Why have we forgiven Charlie Sheen? Why him, when we don’t forgive Lindsay Lohan or Chris Brown? I compare it to the cases of two baseball pitchers, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Both used steroids—Clemens lied about his use, but Pettitte, when he was charged with using PEDs, came right out and admitted it, apologizing up front. Clemens is hated, but Pettitte avoided negative backlash almost entirely. A little bit of that is that people don’t like Roger Clemens, but a lot of it is that we do like people who own up to their own sh*t. And Sheen doesn’t deny that he’s engaged in some very bad behavior. There’s an odd humility to these recent interviews, a chagrined acknowledgment of how far he spun out of control. And we reward him by making his new show popular enough that he’ll earn two hundred million dollars.
I’m a little stunned at just how well this mess turned out for Sheen. I said way back I didn’t think he was as out of control as everyone else did, that he could straighten up and handle his business when he needed to, and that’s exactly what he’s done. I’m not endorsing this as any kind of good life plan, but it does make for an interesting case study in PR disaster management. Sheen fell about as far as you can go, and he’s come up smelling like roses, and it’s from a combination of getting his work done when it counts and taking it on the chin regarding his bad behavior. Sheen doesn’t scapegoat or blame anyone but himself for the things he did. Never a victim, he’s an assh*le, but he’s an honest one. It’s not a bad tactic for celebrities facing public relations challenges to try (I’m looking at you, Manti Te’o).
Charlie Sheen’s career remains, unbelievably, in good shape—in very good shape. Besides Anger Management, this year he has a new movie, Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlie Swan III. Sheen is the eponymous character (because apparently he only plays people named “Charlie” now) and stars alongside the likes of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. His career is, in fact, hotter than it’s been in at least a decade. The bender should have destroyed him, but instead, being honest in the aftermath has resurrected him entirely.
Click here to watch the Dr Oz interview, perhaps one of the most candid celebrity interviews in a long, long time.
Attached -- Sheen making his way around New York this week.