FX Rushes Sheen Sitcom to Market

Network out with 1,700 pre-sales packages even before 'Anger Management' pilot is shot, vetted by top executive

The network president hasn’t seen so much as a script outline, and the star spent most of last year careening through a very public self-immolation. Yet for all the uncertainty hanging over the forthcoming Charlie Sheen comedy Anger Management, the cable network FX is already taking the show to market.

As part of a play FX is calling “Anger Monday,” the network on Jan. 23 will send Anger Management pre-sale packages to 1,700 marketers and media buyers. The culmination of a four-week direct marketing push, Anger Monday will serve as a jump ball of sorts, a first-come, first-serve overture that puts prospective clients on an equal footing.

Selling time in a scripted series that is still very much in the embryonic stage of development—a dozen story lines have been mapped out, but FX Networks president and general manager John Landgraf told Adweek he hasn’t even been presented with a first draft, let alone a pilot—is hardly standard operating procedure. But early demand for the project prompted the unconventional auction.

“We’ve never done anything like this before because, frankly, we haven’t had anything of this magnitude in our lineup,” said Bruce Lefkowitz, evp, ad sales for Fox Cable Entertainment. “There’s been more pre-sale interest for Anger Management than any other show we’ve ever had.”

The deal structure could make Anger a particularly attractive buy. When Landgraf made the bid for the project in October, he agreed to order 10 episodes, with the provision to buy 90 more should the show hit its ratings guarantees. (Distributor Debmar-Mercury has hashed out similar deals with TBS for Tyler Perry’s comedies Why Did I Get Married? and Meet the Browns.)

“As we’ve seen with Turner, there’s a lot of upside to these kind of syndication packages,” said one TV buyer. “There are obvious pricing advantages if you get in on the ground floor and the show’s a hit.”

Surprisingly, Sheen’s show will not be rated TV-MA, which makes it the only FX comedy that doesn’t bear the tag. That’s a key distinction, as it should help FX draw clients that may not be a good fit for bleeding-edge comedies like Louie and Archer.

Sheen said he hoped Anger Management would overwrite last year’s insanity. “I didn’t want [Two and a Half Men] to be my television legacy. I just want to do a show that deals with more mature themes,” he said. “I’m not crazy anymore!”

“This is an opportunity to reach out to the folks who support Two and a Half Men on broadcast but don’t buy our comedies,” Lefkowitz said. “This show will open a lot of doors. All hyperbole aside, this will be the highest-rated show of the year on cable.”

FX in 2011 averaged 1.57 million viewers a night, of which more than half (871,000) were adults 18-49, marking an improvement of 22 percent versus the previous year. Per SNL Kagan, FX generated $520.8 million in ad revenue, up 60 percent from $325 million five years ago.