Everybody wants the ‘Louis C.K. deal.’ What they don’t realize is there is no Louis C.K. deal. There’s nothing on paper that says they don’t bother me. Everything on paper says they can make me do everything they want, says I serve at their pleasure and they get approval over everything. But they’re not going to exercise it as long as things are going well. I earn this with every episode. If I stop being funny, they’re going to come calling.
That’s Louis C.K. talking about his FX deal, which is the envy of many creative people working in television. He gets money (not much), no notes, no network script approval and the freedom to do what he wants.
The Times ran a story about FX’s niche as the basic cable network of choice for young men. The network emerged as a reputable home for dramas with “The Shield” and, to a lesser but buzzier extent, “Nip/Tuck.” There have been hits and misses since that point (R.I.P. “Terriers”), though right now they have two flagship dramas in “Sons of Anarchy” and “Justified.”
But nowadays, the network seems to be known largely for its comedies: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which has been on since 2005, had a creative resurgence last year; “The League” is the best out-and-out comedy the network airs; “Archer,” an animated spy spoof, has a small but loyal following; “Wilfred,” starring Elijah Wood as a depressed man who sees a talking dog; and “Louie,” the Louis C.K. show that varies in tone and genre from week to week.
There is one blip steadily approaching: Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom, “Anger Management,” which debuts this summer. And when I say “blip,” I mean the FX brand had some cachet for a while there, but soon it will be the home a hacky sitcom star known for being an unreliable, unstable actor with a history of violence directed at women. Oh, and he’s starring in an adaptation of a bad Adam Sandler movie. That’s one way to alter public perception of the FX brand.
In our latest installment of Good News/Bad News: FX has announced that “Louie” will premiere on Tuesday, June 28, at 10:30 p.m. (It will follow “Wilfred,” the show starring Elijah Wood that I kept meaning to watch but wound up never watching because I forgot “Wilfred” existed.) That’s the good news! Louie Louie Louie, etc.
The bad news: FX will also premiere Charlie Sheen’s new sitcom “Anger Management” at 9 p.m. the same night. So there’s chance, however slim, that people curious about this Louis C.K. sitcom they keep hearing about might also hear there are other new sitcoms on the same night, so they will tune in earlier. This would be bad, because the new sitcom starring the walking cloud of cocaine and entitlement that is Charlie Sheen has an unusual contract with the network: It will air 10 episodes and, should they reach some unspecified ratings targets, the show will automatically be renewed for 90 additional episodes. I have no idea what those ratings targets are, but if they’re low enough that any lingering Sheen-related interest could lead viewers to check out his show a few times out of morbid curiosity, that’s it: we’re stuck with the show for at least 100 episodes.
Anyway, “Louie” is just four months away!
Good news, everybody! If you were wondering how to get ahead in life, and if you were hoping that hard work and dedication are the best tools in forging a fulfilling career, you can stop with all of that nonsense right this second. Stop working. Stop trying. Go out, do lots of drugs, insult your boss, perform poorly at your job, threaten and abuse numerous women, get fired for making a complete and utter spectacle of yourself and, if you play your cards right, FX will give you lots of money and put you on television again.
Yes, this is more Charlie Sheen news. Everybody’s favorite news story from six months ago was apparently serious about starring in another awful and long-running television show, because I guess you can’t keep yourself in cocaine and hookers and baseball memorabilia solely through residual checks and your gargantuan television earnings and the $25 million dollar severance check you got after getting yourself fired in the first place. (The “you” in this case being Charlie Sheen, even though Charlie Sheen isn’t actually reading these words, because Charlie Sheen has been dead for years, and the Charlie Sheen you see galavanting around nowadays is actually just a Charlie Sheen-shaped array of methamphetamines.)
Anyway, Charlie Sheen. He got fired for all of that stuff earlier this year, and almost immediately after his firing word got out that he was pitching another series: An adaptation of “Anger Management,” the 2003 movie starring Adam Sandler, with Sheen starring in the Jack Nicholson role. That all sounds pretty terrible, obviously, but he found a buyer in FX (which airs repeats of “Two and a Half Men” and, presumably, must be happy with the ratings they’ve seen). It’s worth noting here that Bruce Helford is the show’s executive producer and showrunner, and Helford (who oversaw “The Drew Carey Show”) is a pretty funny dude, so there’s that.
The interesting thing about this is the way the show was sold. The network ordered 10 episodes of the series, and if those episodes notch certain ratings, the network will then order 90 additional episodes. This isn’t the traditional way to order a show (most shows are picked up season-to-season, with some exceptions), but is taken from the successful Tyler Perry model on TBS. Perry’s “House of Payne” started airing in 2006 with the same basic deal — 10 episodes, followed by a 100-episode pickup. “Payne,” by the way, is wrapping up later this year after 222 episodes. That’s unreal. “30 Rock” began airing the same year and has broadcast 103 episodes so far.
“Two and a Half Men” returned this fall to huge, huge numbers. Those ratings have since declined, because a large chunk of the audience was only tuning in because of the Charlie Sheen spectacle and aftermath, and those people quickly bailed. This is bad news as it relates to “Anger Management,” because it means a lot of people could watch “Anger Management” just a few times out of morbid curiosity, and if enough people do that during the brief initial run this show will be on the air for years and years and years. There’s always that danger with any show that looks bad, but in this case we have official confirmation that if enough people decide they are still interested in Charlie Sheen, even if only for a couple of weeks, we are stuck with this thing for basically forever. Remember that before you turn on the television.
The good news: This thing doesn’t air until the summer of 2012, so we can only hope that more than a year after Charlie Sheen’s notoriety peaked, everybody will have already forgotten about him and turned their attention to the next great celebrity meltdown. Fingers crossed.
You have been sitting on the very edge of your seat since the whole Charlie Sheen thing exploded earlier this year, eagerly anticipating important news on the future of your favorite sitcom, “Two and a Half Men.” (Or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you haven’t thought about Charlie Sheen since sometime in April, and reading his name reminded you of something that briefly captured your attention this past spring, and even though you can’t remember exactly why you’re pretty sure there was something.)
Well, if you were waiting for vital news about the most important show on television, you’re in luck. We have unofficial-official confirmation that “Two and a Half Men” will in fact kill off Charlie Sheen’s character this off-season (with the cause of death being deemed a very public and heavily-tweeted act of career seppuku). The season premiere will contain his funeral and a parade of his ex-girlfriends, something I am sure the show will handle with equanimity and grace and no misogynistic jokes whatsoever, that much I can promise you. And then Ashton Kutcher will show up or something and it’s a two-part premiere, by the way, a two-part premiere, because there’s just too much plot on this plot-driven show for them to wrap it up in just 22 minutes, so Ashton Kutcher shows up in the first part as a potential buyer of the house that serves as “Men’s” primary setting, and he doesn’t move in until the second, and by the second month of his tenure, his shout-oriented style of comedy will have made you forget all about What’s His Face, the guy with all the drugs and the baseball fetish.
His character’s name will be Walden Schmidt, and he will play an Internet billionaire with a broken heart. Read that sentence again, and make sure it sinks in, because clearly Chuck Lorre and CBS are certain they can do literally anything and this show will still be the No. 1 comedy on television while roughly 13 people watch “Parks and Rec” and “Community” each week.
Meanwhile, we here at Digressions await spoilers for the “Mike and Molly” premiere.
Okay, while I am reluctant to link to the Huffington Post, and doubly so because it’s one of their “celebrity Web-blog” entries, this actually interested me from start to finish: Something Alec Baldwin wrote about Charlie Sheen. I KNOW, I KNOW. Everything about that sounds awful, but it was actually worth reading (for me).
It’s interesting to me mostly because Baldwin talks about how and why he was nixed from “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” the sequels to “The Hunt for Red October.” Baldwin was good as Jack Ryan in that first movie, but he never played the role again because, the story goes, he wanted to do “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway when the studio wanted to move ahead with the sequel. But Baldwin, for the first time I can recall seeing this on the record, says the studio wanted to cut him for Ford all along, because Baldwin was a nice actor and everything but Harrison Ford was Harrison Ford, and they actually owed Ford money for this other project anyhow.
He also tells Sheen to, you know, grow up and apologize and grovel and recognize he’ll never beat the massive, multinational corporate behemoths that own “Two and a Half Men.” It’s really sound advice, assuming the recipient of said advice isn’t high or losing his mind. Anyway, I can’t believe it: I read something on that site, by a celebrity, and I didn’t feel shame after. Who knew?
The omnipresent and not-at-all-tiresome Charlie Sheen has finally been fired from “Two and a Half Men.” I want to say this feels like it took forever, but then I remember it hasn’t even been two weeks since they shut the show down for the season after Sheen gave a particularly scornful radio interview (remember those halcyon days, before we knew that was only the beginning of his media blitz?). The instantaneous news cycle has its benefits and drawbacks, I suppose, because this entire saga feels like it’s eaten up a disproportionately large amount of time (it really hasn’t) and attention (it definitely has).
Why did they wait the two weeks? Presumably to see if, at any point, Sheen would pull back and enter rehab or start acting like a sane person. Additionally, the early days of Sheen’s media appearances and his early Tweeting were hugely popular. It wasn’t that what he was doing or saying made a goddamn lick of sense or that people were rallying behind him or anything, but he was saying and doing such cosmically bewildering nonsense (and SO much of it) that he drew in more attention, spawned memes and turned himself into a temporary pop icon. The executives at Warner Bros. and CBS knew that if they canned him at the apex of his public meltdown — if they fired him while he was still being booked on every show that would take him — it would result in a lot of negative attention aimed at them and their cash cow. Instead, they waited for the attention to abate a little (I mean, relatively) before firing him, giving the public a chance to cool on Sheen a bit. (After all, despite his Webcast and his repeated attempts at a new catchphrase, he hasn’t actually said anything meme-worthy since his initial torrent of crazy.) This was going to get attention no matter what, but it was a savvy move on their part.
For what it’s worth, Sheen seems to have misinterpreted his meteoric promotion to the forefront of the public consciousness. If we’re to believe his alleged “I’m Charlie Sheen, I’m more famous than Obama!” boasts, he probably thinks he’s been there all along, and he’s just now finally paying attention to it. There are signs he thinks this thing is bigger than it is. The way he refers to this attention as a “movement,” rather than a public spectacle being observed the same way we observe any celebrity meltdown, his belief his social media platform should be leveraged and his supposed desire to take his crazy act on the road all suggest that he seems to think of himself as akin to Conan O’Brien last year. Remember, Conan was unceremoniously booted from his show after a public fracas with the network, he took to Twitter and the Web and eventually the road, all in the process of becoming something of a public folk hero.
If he thinks of them as peers, Sheen is in for a surprise. There’s a big, big gap between the two situations. I don’t just say this because Conan is funny and great and was (relatively) screwed over by NBC, while Sheen is neither funny nor great nor particularly victimized by anyone but the voices in his head, but there is a huge gulf between the public perceptions of both men. Lord knows what Sheen intends to do if he does, in fact, go on tour (his Webcast basically consisted of him spewing crazy talk while enablers laughed at everything he said). He has no real skills, whereas Conan could, you know, tell jokes and play the guitar and not abuse women. And Conan could, eventually, head back to television. When the attention fades, Sheen will go back to being a tabloid fixation, and what else? He’ll get some movie roles, and his presence will provide a boost of attention for his first few projects, but notoriety can’t fuel success in film or television.
What of the show? Remember, the No. 1 comedy on television was not canceled yesterday. Sheen was presumed to be the franchise up until last year’s contract negotiations, so if they decided they were done with him, nobody could have been that surprised if they canned the whole enterprise when they decided to part ways with him. The fact that they didn’t end it yet means that they hope to wring a few more bucks out of the network’s golden goose. Obviously, there will be some financial issues here (Sheen’s absence could mean that the network’s licensing fee and the show’s rerun costs could be altered). They could hire some other actor (John Stamos is mentioned often for this) and see what happens next season. Even if the network were to have canceled it outright, it wasn’t like they would have suffered a total loss. This show was enormously expensive, and nearly any other sitcom could be plugged into that hole for lower costs; there would be smaller profits, but they wouldn’t be losing every penny they would have made had Sheen continued on the program. Continuing with the proven brand name gives them a chance to negotiate something in the middle, likely somewhere between a new show and the established megahit, to see if they can keep it going.
Here’s the big question: If they recast the role, or if they ultimately do cancel or reschedule the show, what happens? I mean, do people really care about this goddamn thing? Lost in all of this is the fact that Sheen’s main calling card — the thing for which he is (ostensibly) best known, the thing for which he is handsomely compensated and the greatest success with which he has ever been associated — is this terrible, terrible show. It’s awful, but it’s enormously successful. Hell, the day Sheen got fired a rerun of the thing pulled down more than 10 million viewers (!).
As the terrific Drew Magary pointed out at Deadspin, if this is such a popular show, why don’t the viewers care about any of this? For instance, I watch the show “Chuck.” (If you have never watched it, it’s a fun show, give it a try if you are so inclined.) The show has been teetering on death’s door essentially since the pilot aired. But there are a lot of devoted fans, and they write letters and buy Subway subs and bombard the network, so now it’s 2011 and the damn thing is about to wrap up its fourth season, which is astonishing considering the minuscule audience and perpetual threat of cancellation. If I ever meet somebody who says the wrote a letter or bought a sub, I will give them a hug. I haven’t done any of those things. I like the show, but I don’t go out and expend effort to keep a show I like on the air. That goes against the entire reason I watch television: so I can be a sedentary wastrel contributing nothing to society and not leaving the couch unless absolutely necessary.
If there are fans, and apparently there are 10 to 15 million of them who reliably turn on this drivel each week, where the hell are they? Why aren’t they writing letters or organizing campaigns or calling the network or doing or saying something, anything, to show that they care about this show beyond a reliable way to easily kill 30 minutes on a Monday evening? I know, I know: this is not the kind of show likely to have devoted fans who will organize to support it, because (a) it’s not targeted towards the younger, energetic, nerdy demographic that campaigns for “Jericho” and whatever and (b) it’s actually already a hit, so they don’t actually need to care about it. I know that. But shouldn’t somebody, somewhere, be doing something? Hell, “Arrested Development” (a show worth saving, if there ever was one) debuted the same fall as “Two and a Half Men.” The former had weak ratings and was canceled three seasons later; the latter still has dominant ratings and is one of the biggest successes in the history of the medium (financially, not artistically; I just have to clarify that one more time, because I’ve tried watching “Men,” and it is excruciating). “Arrested Development” hasn’t aired a new episode in more than five years, and you still constantly hear about the show from all of the cast members who went on to do other interesting, varied things, and you know people who loved the show and always recommend it, and you hear about this never-gonna-happen movie, and you generally still hear about the show, even if you never watched it. Whereas “Two and a Half Men” is either on the verge of outright cancellation or a distinct reconfiguring, and have you heard a word about it? From anybody? People still know about “Arrested Development” because they still know fans who worship it, and if they haven’t watched it by now it’s just because they opted not to at this point, not because of a lack of awareness. All people know about “Two and a Half Men” is that Charlie Sheen likes cocaine and hookers and he was also on this CBS thing that a lot of people presumably watched.
Look, if a rerun of the thing pulls in 10 million viewers, and if years and years of Sheen’s well-documented violence towards women and his drug use and general dislikability haven’t put those viewers off, the people who tune into this thing would clearly watch if they took a reasonably upright broom, plopped it down on the couch and had it react (impassively) to some quip from the 35-year-old half-man of the title. So why bother recasting? Why bother even paying for new episodes? Me, I hope they just keep airing reruns, and see if anybody actually notices or cares. Seriously. At least then we’ll know if the people watching are actually watching, and we’ll find out if there are 15 million people willing to sit through anything. Which, based on this show’s success, seems pretty likely at this point.
This blog is not covering each and every one of Charlie Sheen’s exploits because, quite frankly, there isn’t enough time in the world. Also, because I don’t think he’s particularly talented, nor do I care about his show, nor do I find it amusing to cover every word coming out of an obviously unwell man. Still, this is pretty fantastic: Charlie Sheen quotes added to New Yorker cartoons. Example:
I don’t write much about “Two and a Half Men” because it’s an unfunny, boring show. However, it is the most popular sitcom on television (a rerun of the thing had 11.2 million viewers earlier this week), so there is some cultural value in discussing it when something particularly newsworthy happens. This fits the bill: CBS and Warner Bros. have shut things down for the rest of the season following two moderately crazed interviews given by Charlie Sheen. Production was halted last month when he entered rehab, and filming was supposed to resume on Monday for the season’s final four episodes. But yesterday, Sheen called into a radio show (the same show he called in 2009 to say that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were an inside job) and…well, he had a lot to say. Movieline rounded up some of the choice quotes, as did the A.V. Club.
Sheen was particularly harsh regarding show creator Chuck Lorre, so he may not have appreciated Lorre’s recent vanity card joke. He repeatedly called him “Chaim Levine” (Lorre’s real name is Charles Levine), and for some reason, his repeated and sneering usage of that name struck executives at CBS and Warner Bros. as anti-Semitic. (What’s Charlie Sheen’s real name? It’s Carlos Estevez, but it’s a good thing he changed his name to Sheen, because otherwise people might not have known he was Martin Sheen’s son and he wouldn’t have gotten jobs.) Anyway despite Lorre’s work providing Sheen with “humorous” “punchlines” over the last eight years, Sheen called him a “clown,” “charlatan” and “turd,” saying that the actor turns Lorre’s “tin cans into pure gold” (“Pure gold”? Sheen has apparently never watched his show). Sheen also made some bewildering statements about assassins and “fools and trolls” and generally seemed like an unwell man. (After the announcement that production was halted, he again lashed out at Lorre in an open letter.)
These two other choice Sheen quotes are worth considering: “My success rate is 100 percent” and “Watch your ratings, dudes. Watch your stupid ratings. Whatever. Do what you’ve got to do. I’ll go make movies with superstars and not work with idiots.”
Well! I’m not be the best person to speak to the sadness that is “Two and a Half Men” leaving the airwaves because, quite frankly, the existence and success of such a show is a blight on the comedic landscape, only proving to executives that audiences are stupid and need to be treated as such — though, yes, I am aware that if the show were to permanently cease airing they would just find some other stupid thing to soak up ratings while “Parks and Recreation,” “Community” and other great shows make do with a third of its viewers. The only sad part here is that hundreds of people rely on the show for employment, and it’s pretty one-sided who is putting them out of work for the rest of the year and perhaps longer. (Sheen, who makes between $1.2 and $1.8 million an episode, will not be paid for the unfilmed episodes this season; payment for the rest of the cast and crew remains unknown. His rehab stint is costing him at least $8 million dollars, counting the four episodes nixed when he entered rehab and the four episodes now canned as the show has shut down. He’s made truckloads of money over the years and will be fine, which is why he’s free to lash out like this; the rank-and-file, the men and women who need paychecks to get by, are more likely to suffer.) The show could return next season with a new star, which seems the likeliest route at this point, unless CBS just cancels the thing, which I find doubtful but possible.
There is, however, one thing I can speak to: Sheen’s alleged “100 percent” success rate and threat to “go make movies with superstars.” I happen to have a list of Sheen’s cinematic efforts right here, and would it shock you to learn the guy was actually a washed-up C-list actor before resurfacing on television and inexplicably transforming into a sitcom superstar? It’s true! Before he took over for Michael J. Fox on “Spin City” in 2000, Charlie Sheen was appearing in a succession of classics like “Good Advice,” “No Code of Conduct” and “Free Money.” You know, films that never made it to theaters. In fact, he hadn’t been a movie star for nearly a decade before he got the “Spin City” job.
Sure, he made 1997′s “Money Talks,” which made a little bit of cash, but that movie is only notable for introducing Chris Tucker and Brett Ratner to one another. Sheen’s only other moderate success before that was a middling “Three Musketeers” movie in 1993. (In the early 1990s, he also made sequels to two of his better works, “Major League” and “Hot Shots!”, but neither sequel was a success.) In reality, 1991′s “Hot Shots” was the last time Charlie Sheen starred in an Actual Hit Movie. (The success of 2003′s “Scary Movie 3″ was not due to him, as he played a moderate role in an ensemble film.) His real stint as a successful film actor was the mid-to-late 1980s, a period wherein he made “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” “Young Guns” and “Major League.” The films “Platoon” (1986) and “Hot Shots!” (1991) serve as perfect bookends for the entirety of his time as a movie star. (He also made the disastrous “Navy Seals” during this time, as well as “The Rookie,” a film only known for being Clint Eastwood’s terrible wow-has-he-lost-his-touch pre-”Unforgiven” film.) After 199, the only movies he starred in were forgotten, underperforming or straight-to-video projects.
(Personally, I don’t much get the whole Charlie Sheen thing. Yeah, he was good in “Platoon” and “Major League,” and he wasn’t particularly awful in “Wall Street.” More than anything, the guy resembles an unfinished, doughy version of Martin Sheen, only without the screen presence, the gravitas or the fire. But hey, his dad was in “Badlands,” so through nepotism and some charm he got some jobs and parlayed those into other jobs and while the movie thing didn’t work out, he somehow or other lucked into this career as a highly-paid television superstar.)
So he hasn’t been a movie star, by my estimation, in two full decades. That’s all right, movie audiences have long memories, right? I’m sure audiences will remember him as the star in the late 1980s, or as the sitcom star, and they won’t only think of his weird and very public meltdown. If and when Sheen returns to cinema and finds the terrain less friendly than he recalls, at least he will have his hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to keep him warm at night. That’s more than the “Two and a Half Men” crew can say.
I haven’t written much about Charlie Sheen here because I don’t really care about him or his awful, awful show. It’s hugely popular, and that hasn’t changed despite his regular appearances in the news for threatening his wife with a knife, trashing a hotel room or being hospitalized after (allegedly) partying with porn stars and a briefcase full of cocaine. Even now, the show’s production has been halted so he could get help, and Sheen is already out of rehab and issuing sarcastic ultimatums to the network and production company, and still the ratings remain high.
Anyway, Chuck Lorre, the show’s executive producer, regularly ends his episodes with a brief vanity card (all of which are collected here). He shared some very sensible thoughts in his vanity card after last night’s (highly-rated) episode: