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Why Getting Into Business with Charlie Sheen Is a Terrible Idea for FX

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 28th 2011 2:30PM
Television is a business. Some days, it feels like 95 percent of television exists to remind us of that.

Many shows are made for cynical reasons, by cynical people, in order to rake in the cash that props up multinational corporations. So much of the time, making money is the name of the game and creativity and originality are afterthoughts, if that.

But I've staked my career on the idea that television is more than a business, that it can be an art as well. Those of us who approach this gig with that belief -- with anything other than a cynical attitude, that is -- are liable to get blindsided by pointed reminders that cynicism and opportunism are the standard operating modes in Hollywood.

Yesterday, we got one of those reminders. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that FX got into business with Charlie Sheen via his new show, 'Anger Management,' but it was hard not to feel disappointment.

Maybe I should just think about the pragmatic reasons for the network's decision to pick up Sheen's 'Anger Management,' as many in the industry have. Maybe I should just accept that networks make decisions for mercenary reasons and move on. Maybe I should just view this, as apparently so many do, as one more chapter in the long saga of Charlie Sheen shenanigans.

Sorry, but I can't quite do all of that and just let it go. FX was one of the networks that convinced me that television can be more than a business. FX and the bolder networks out there have shown us that TV can both make money and aspire to move us on emotional, intellectual and aesthetic levels. Given that I believe in the medium in a non-cynical way, I opened myself up to the possibility of being disillusioned. My bad, I guess.

Let me be clear: I agree with critic James Poniewozik, who wrote that it's not necessarily Hollywood's job to punish Charlie Sheen for his actions and his past. But I do find it disheartening to be reminded of the double standard that still exists when it comes to rule-breaking public figures who get in trouble with the law: If they're men, they're usually seen as dangerous, edgy bad boys; if they're women, they're usually derided as awful human beings who deserve all the calumny thrown at them.

Charlie Sheen's history of violence against women has been consistently ignored or waved away like it's no big deal, and he has been continually rewarded for attitudes and actions that depress the hell out of many people out here in the real world. A significant percentage of the public does not find his actions humorous but loathsome and creepy.

So I couldn't help but feel sad when a network that, for the most part, successfully threaded the needle between art and commerce got into bed with that guy. And regardless of my own response, this isn't what I would call smart brand management on FX's part. I do think there's such a thing as taking the network's image as the home of antiheroes too far. As various people said on my Twitter feed yesterday, this makes me think differently of FX now. It has to be said: I thought the network was better than this.

I don't care how much money this deal makes: It's a decision that I think damages FX's reputation and sends a message that being a disrespectful, entitled, self-absorbed jerk will get you rewarded (if you're a guy who is already wealthy and famous, that is). That's all disheartening, to say the least.

But those of us who feel that the decision to get into business with Sheen is crass and compromising don't really count, I guess, because, hey, this is how it's done. It's just business. We should stop caring so much about all that useless, irrelevant crap, because anything that's not about making a dollar is a waste of time, right?

No. It is relevant. I will fight tooth and nail not to become so cynical that I just accept industry decisions that make me feel disappointed and disillusioned. It's not my job to make and accept cold business calculations, it's my job to be one of the people who raves about the best that television can be, to be one of the people who finds the wheat among the chaff and celebrates its very existence.

It is my job, in other words, to give a sh*t. The day I care only about dollars and don't care when networks make short-sighted and depressing decisions, well, that's the day you need to come over to my house and take my laptop away from me.

Sure, on financial grounds, this decision makes sense. In every other sense, it's not at all winning.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Mo - I feel ya. But the truth is TV and every other business in the Universe is run by the good old boy network. They forgive each others transgressions and keep on having wild parties. Now that you have vented about it (probably as much as I have every time an exec gets slapped on the wrist for sexual harassment), let it go. Focus on what is good in TV and tell us about it in your wonderful columns. And keep warning us about the TV shows that would waste our precious time. Fight the battles you can win. Don't waste your time on the ones you can't.

November 05 2011 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

But, Mo.... they're doing it for the sake of the *club*.

Seriously, with the bank TWO AND A HALF MEN is making them, once they turn off their moral compass, making a deal with Sheen makes perfect sense.

It's a shame, though, because FX got away with so much content that could be considered misogynistic because it balanced things out with strong antiheroines, and actors who at least talked the talk about not being sexist pigs -- in short, they had an actor's distance. No longer, now....

October 31 2011 at 3:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

your opinion means absolutely nothing, will change absolutely nothing, and is most probably wrong anyways.
mainly because you are a nobody, you are not in the industry, you have no idea how it actually works from the inside. everything you know probably comes from watching entourage.
nobody should be reading this column.

October 31 2011 at 1:47 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Amrit Dedyal

I had a week off of work and decided to finally watch the whole of the wire Mo. My friends told me to watch it in one go because it is so intense and complicated. I just finished the series and I have to say this about Sheen and FX....the game is the game! Hollywood is just like any political system...people make decisions that aid their image or their bank accounts and the people to suffer are normal fans or in the case of the wire...the citizens of baltimore. We can complain and be upset...but can anyone really say that any person or network or industry will sooner or later do what FX is doing now even if their reputation was flawless to begin with? I mean maybe FX decided that brand integrity was important when they were able to sustain it...sure..but when you have two ratings flops in one season (Terriers and Lights Out) what is to stop them from reverting back to basic business....maybe the management was not happy that John Landegraph green lit two series that bombed and he has to play the game and make sure the next show is a ratings hit to ensure the money they invest in a new series is gonna pay off. I know it sounds cynical but the wire tought me that people may come off as wanting to do good or do stuff for the right reasons...but the system will always chew them out in the end...working with Sheen is the cost of doing business in hollywood sadly. This is all pure conjecture of course but it does beg the question of humanity I suppose...who does Langraph have to answer to? his board? the parent company? the advertisers? the investers?.. are these decisions purely his?

AMC had an awesome brand...until they realised that hollywood kicked in for their two best series..i.e. in Hollywood the longer a series goes on the more money it costs to maintain. Plus they greenlit the killing...bad move. Now I bet they monitor all their shows to death now!

October 29 2011 at 3:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fx was about the only place a show with Sheen could end up right now too. It couldn't go to Spike Tv or Comedy Central (where it would be nice and easy to forget a new show with him even exists--conversely it would also be the network where a show with him would work best right now too.) but you all know those 2 networks are viacom owned as is mtv and CBS (of course!) TBS which would've been the next best fit seeing as how they've been looking for an original sitcom forever now can't do it because its owned by Warner Bros who of course can't just give a sitcom deal out to a guy who just got through sueing them!!! That just leaves syndication or USA who doesn't do sitcoms yet (they will prob once they can get their hands on those modern family reruns they just bought if i remember right) and syndication---actually i can't think of a good excuse why not syndication....hey FX see you didn't have to do this--they could've had basic weekend syndication! (shrugs) maybe they can get Jon Cryer to do the ads alongside Sheen like those endless Two and a Half Men ads that used to keep popping up everytime i watched something on there (altho they've recently been replaced by the How I Met Your Mother cast saying they're reruns are now there) i can't imagine this thing won't get the order for the extra 90 sadly--but i can imagine him making people even more sick and tired of him in the advertising blitz that's sure to come before this thing actually premieres--so that's something to look foward to no? wonder who else is gonna be in the cast.

October 29 2011 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mateob25's comment

CBS separated from Viacom five years ago.

October 29 2011 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm with Jimmy in that I find it far more offensive that F/X is using its programming as a virtual hostage in order to negotiate more money from DirecTV, which ultimately will mean higher prices for subscribers. I'm looking at the possibility of missing the final episodes of Sons of Anarchy because of F/X's greed, and that bothers me way more than the fact that they've lowered themselves to swim with the scum by giving Charlie Sheet a show. The way I figure it, those of us who loathe Charlie Sheen will avoid his show like the plague. Anyone who actually wants to watch that crap deserves what they get. No skin off my nose. We all can voice our displeasure by changing the channel and the show will fail soon and spectacularly. I think Charlie's 15 minutes are over. He just hasn't gotten the memo yet.

October 29 2011 at 9:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First thought and throughout reading this piece Go Mo!

I am wondering though if this piece means that won't be offering a review of the show when it comes on the air. Does this piece mean that you will be taking a stand and not engaging with it? Or will you seek to engage with the show to point out how it perpetuates the points we tease out in this piece here?

October 29 2011 at 3:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George Otwori

Canceling Terriers is what changed my opinion on FX brand and John Landgraf comments of doing nosier shows in the future. FX may never escape it's "poor man HBO' status.

October 29 2011 at 3:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Molly Mcgee

I hope Sheen makes it, I hope he makes it as an actor , makes fx some money, makes enough to pay his child support and is so busy making money and living that he stays off drugs and even stops drinking. Will you right an article about it if he does maureen?

October 29 2011 at 12:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Molly Mcgee's comment
Molly Mcgee

Sorry I correct myself write an article

October 29 2011 at 12:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I disagree pretty strongly with the notion of assuming sight unseen that it will be terrible, especially when it's being done by critics. Does the fact that it's being written by someone who's done some good work in the past mean absolutely nothing? At the risk of getting myself laughed at, I have to ask: What if the show's good? If that deeply improbable scenario were to happen, would everything written here still stand?

October 28 2011 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to alynch's comment

It's not really about the quality of the show. It's about the reputation of FX as a brand, and how they are presenting themselves to the world as a company that is okay with how Charlie Sheen has behaved, and, especially, treated women.

November 01 2011 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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