Does Anger Management Mean FX Is Done Taking Risks?

"There are few networks that can readily be counted on for consistent programming: Major networks have no problem latching on to whatever is hot, most of basic cable has become too niche-y (another cake show?), and premium cable isn't the sure thing it used to be. But over time, FX has changed from its early days of airing one long, magazine-style show to being a clear trendsetter simply by bucking trends. Whenever FX announces a new program, there's a feeling that it's going to be of a certain quality—and unlike anything else you see on television."

Some guy named me wrote that in March 2010 as a love letter to what is probably my favorite television network. The post included 10 examples of FX's knack for bending genres, and I listed shows like Archer, Justified, and Sons of Anarchy as proof of the edginess that could regularly be found on FX. That was BEFORE American Horror Story, Wilfred, and Louie joined the mix. FX has always chosen art over business. It's one of the few places who can say that.

Perhaps I'm being a little dramatic here, but it was fun while it lasted.

Last night's debut of Anger Management shovels in a new era for FX, one that has been in the works behind the scenes for some time now. Unlike previous original FX programs, we have seen Anger Management before. We've seen eight seasons of it on CBS, in fact. It's a multi-camera comedy starring Charlie Sheen as a jerkish playboy who lives in a cardboard house. It is quite unlike anything else FX has debuted, because it's so much like everything else that has been on TV for decades.

This has nothing to do with the quality of Anger Management or the talent of Charlie Sheen; it's actually a smart business decision. But it's a smear on the brand that FX had developed with smart, edgy, unpredictable shows it had carefully cultivated. I should have seen this coming. The Sheen-vasion of FX started with reruns of Two and a Half Men a few years ago. And once he became available, FX as a destination made some sense.

(Side note: A similar thing can be said of Brand X with Russell Brand, which also debuted last night. While that show falls much more in line with FX's daring personality, it does have that sense of chasing big, established names and giving them a show—any show—much like Sheen with Anger Management.)

The ratings from last night are in, and wouldn't you know it? Anger Management became cable's most-watched scripted comedy series premiere in history with 5.47 million viewers. It actually gained viewers for its second episode, jumping to 5.74 million as people tuned in to see Charlie gawking at a naked old woman he once slept with to end a hitting slump. These numbers are particularly important because Anger Management is working under that weird new renewal model that's gaining traction as basic cable grows: If the rating are good for Anger Management initial ten episodes (and they're GREAT), it's expected the show will be renewed for a whopping 90 episodes, in the same vein as TBS's deals with its Tyler Perry comedies (Tyler Perry's House of Payne has amassed 264 episodes in just 7 seasons because it follows a production schedule similar to that of a soap opera). FX will probably look at next week's numbers before making a decision, but its finger is definitely already hovering over the "renewal" button.

As basic cable steals away audiences from broadcast networks, business opportunities will continue to arise, and FX is leveraging its success into cash. Similar things are happening at AMC, where contracts are being disputed more frequently and more reality programs are being produced. It's how the world works. Build up a reputation, then make money. The success of Anger Management almost certainly means more shows like it will follow, not just on FX but on other networks. FX would be stupid or uninterested in turning in a profit not to join the fray.

Again, I don't care about the quality of Anger Management or the fact that Charlie Sheen is on it. If you like it, fine. To each his own. What I'm scared of is seeing FX move further and further in this direction, abandoning its glory days of going out of its way to be different in favor of chasing dollars. I wish all the best for FX chief John Landgraf (who wrote me a very kind personal email thanking me for the 2010 piece) because he deserves the success and a pay raise and a margarita machine for building FX into what it has become and giving people like Louis C.K., Kurt Sutter, and Adam Reed a place to let their creative juices spew without boundaries. I'm just sad that it might come at the cost of the greatness that got it there.

This isn't the end. It's a concern. On my part, this is half overreaction and half "been burned before." FX doesn't appear to be abandoning its old model, but rather adding a safety net of sure bets. None of its current programs are in danger of being canceled, so we'll still spend more seasons with SAMCRO and in Harlan County and banging international models with Sterling Archer. But this could be the first dangerous step away from the risks FX made its name on. It's the circle of life of television (and most media; the first two Kings of Leon albums were great!). Now pardon me while I write a piece on how IFC is keepin' it real. That is, until Kevin James gets a comedy on the network in 2014.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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I hadn't read this article before today but it says everything I had thought in my mind at the time of AM's premiere. It's too soon to tell whether FX is beginning to become like so many other networks...but it's not too soon to be worried.



Given the flatness of Unsupervised, Anger Management and Brand X, never have I seen FX put out so many duds in so little time. I actually abandoned AM after giving it the three episode test. I can't remember that happening before with original FX fare. Well, at least their truly great shows still have a few seasons left in them before mediocrity completely takes over.

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I wouldn't say done taking risks... they're just not finding any original content. Producers aren't exactly how do you say... creative artistically. As for the case of It's Always Sunny In Philade[phia... it was developed and created by a determined guy who's a great writer and actor, he had an original idea, did it cheap, took risks and sky rocketed FX's revenue. The window's still open.
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Don't understand the pot shot at Kevin James. but whatever
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Really? You didn't know he was in King of Queens, a famously mediocre, traditional, safe sitcom? I suppose he could have used Tim Allen as well. Ray Romano has spread his wings a bit, but it would have worked a few years ago. Brad Garrett would have worked, but I don't imagine he's got quite the name recognition.
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King of Queens? love that show. Though it was the politically correct thing to dislike it, I understand that much.



Romano and Garrett are great, too.



and yet I can't stand Tim Allen



go figure
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I wanted to like the show. And it started out promising.



But it sank like a rock after that.



Will continue watching because I enjoy Sheen's shtick...but the writing...my god the writing...
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I like Charlie Sheen but Anger Management needs to be funnier. I watched this with my family and there were no laughs at all.. None. Zero. Two and a Half Men is on CBS and manage to be edgier than that. They seriously need to upgrade the writing, make it funnier and more shocking.



This show right now could be on ABC Family .



But as the main point, i dont think we have to be worried about FX.. They have so much talent over there, so many good shows like The Shield, Sons of Anarchy and Louie.. I honestly think they have a deep talent cespool and they gonna have to work a lot and make much more stupid decisions (than Anger Management) to ruin what i think it is the best cable network nowadays. I dont Anger Management is a reason to be concerned for FX. Nice writing Tim.
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i just sold a pitch to FX that is so fucking out there, it even scares me. so the answer tim l'douche, is no. http://www.tv.com/news/does-anger-management-mean-fx-is-done-taking-risks-29000/ cunts... From Kurt Sutter
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I see what you're saying here, Tim, but i think you're being just a bit hyperbolic. I think a big reason is what you stated about having a safety net of profitable, ratings juggernaut shows that will bring viewers in to watch whatever else FX is airing. Louie and Wilfred both got a ratings bump, so it worked.



Plus, I agree with JT_Kirk below, I think the network mightve thought the show was going to be edgier than the final product. I know I did, I assumed Charlie Sheen in a comedy block with Louis C.K and Jason Gann would fit like a glove.
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I agree. I was expecting a failure. But I thought it would be more a Louie type show that didn't work.



Instead we get sitcommy sitcom screaming sitcom with every line of dialogue.



(p.s. Keven James is cool.)
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You should look up hyperbolic, Tim is saying 'this is half overreaction', so obviously it doesn't mean what you think it means
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You should look up what 'just a bit' means, in a similar respect.
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Having watched the show, I can say I do not get the venom from so many of the psuedo-TV critics/bloggers. The only conclusion I have drawn on that topic is that a certain segment has an axe to grind.



The show was not horrible, it was not bad, it was even better than mediocre; for me, that puts it in the same zip code as Two and a Half Men. No, I do not carve time out of my week to watch 2&1/2M, but my wife does... and she was laughing all the way through both episodes.



Personally, my initial reaction was in the same vein. The two shows I do find time for are Justified and SoA; so a big FX fan here. Right now, this is just a clone of his last show; but starting out of the gate with a healthy fraction of that audience would lay a sweet bed-o-green for growing in a better direction.



Now, if this could somehow get me a handful more episodes of Justified or SoA a year, that would be the shizznizzle.
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I wonder if FX was hoping that the show would be edgier, and are disappointed with the final product.
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Whoever would've thought that hiring Charlie Sheen would indicate that you were done taking risks?
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i can understand them grabbing for the money bag while it was sitting out in front of them. while it's not something i am interested in, it doesn't mean they will stop making quality shows like louie, wilfred, sons of anarchy, etc.
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Well, I think Tim is probably right. FX did something strange in Brazil too (where I live): they've produced this mockumentary show with an obnoxious stand-up comedian we have here - who's been sued a thousand times for his stupid, tasteless jokes. This guy is very controversial and honestly, not funny at all and definitely shouldn't deserve his own show - but the limbo, where Charlie Sheen belongs too - so it's probably a trend with FX: get the most controversial ones and give them a go. I'd say it's a waste of money and time, but there's probably some profit in there. Apparently, the executives aren't very concerned with reputation either. What's so edgy about Charlie Sheen anyway? 'Cos he was fired from the only job he'd probably have? 'Cos he's a drug addict and hangs out with prostitutes? 'Cos he's made a fool out of himself in public? We've seen this so many times! Bring us something real new FX, like the other shows mentioned in this article.
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I'm sorry. 10 sec in and the laugh track. I know. I was raised on shows with laugh tracks and live audiences. But I don't gravitate towards those shows anymore. I'm going to Blame NBC's big 3 comedies (and shows like Its Always Sunny) to really make me realize I don't want a laugh track. Sorkin realized it how many eps into Sports Night?
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Since when does a network having 1 different type show become it's downfall? Most networks cater to a wide variety of audience. Say what you will about Sheen, but if he brings FX an audience who'll stick around for some of their other shows then it's a success. I watched it and it was OK, not great by any means, but I'll stick around for a few more episodes to see what happens. I think everyone should just be thankful that the network went with him instead of adding another "reality" piece of crap that the other networks keep adding to their schedules.
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I was thinking the same thing. Let's just hope FX values reputation over profit... wow, what am I saying.
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Tim you're overreacting on this one. FX has too many quality shows for this article to even make sense.I fail to see how another successful show can tarnish their brand. Even if the show was an abject failure, what does that have to do with awesomeness like Justified,Louie,AHS, SOA, etc?



Non story.
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Staff
Agreed, I did say it was an early overreaction. But it's an ominous sign. I love FX to death, but have to love them a little less after adding this show, which sticks out like crazy.
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One bad show does not a tarnished brand make ... Why am I writing like Yoda?
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Well it certainly doesn't make it a perfect brand anymore, right? Soon there will be 100 episodes of Anger Management on FX. It's a business move, but it certainly changes my perception of FX as flawless. But yes, the core is still there.
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The flip side to Anger Management's success is that Wilfred's ratings were up 71% and Louie was up 55% from last season. If not for Sheen those shows would've been lucky to break even with where they left off. So if Louie and Wilfred keep it up like that or don't drop off too much, Anger might have just guaranteed their renewals and FX can keep making more shows like them.



And Charlie Sheen is a once in a lifetime catch. No one else of his ratings caliber is waiting in the wings. Even Ray Ramano couldn't save Men of a Certain Age, and Tim Allen hasn't set the world on fire with Last Man Standing.
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Once you start down that path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.



When they get a taste of the big money that comes with explosive mediocrity, how will they go back to little smart shows? How could any channel do more Archer or Always Sunny when a marketing coup draws that much fat cash for lesser shows?



Charlie Sheen's going to be a very-often-in-a-lifetime catch at this rate, he didn't break out of his previous mold in this move, he stayed as-is and people tire with that sort of thing. He's a sideshow freak right now, he needs to perform Shakespeare while they're expecting only standing and drooling to prove his value again, and instead he sticks with the drooling.
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Well, I certainly can't say you're wrong... I have no idea what the future holds for FX and maybe this really is the beginning of the end. But that sounds very overly-dramatic, and so I'm going to accuse you of being too dramatic, as well.



Like you, FX is probably my favorite television network currently. Justified, Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny, and Archer are all probably in my top 10 favorite shows list. I also watch The League and Wilfred, and while I don't like Louie much myself, I can understand why many others do. And all these shows are certainly "edgy".



I agree that Anger Management kinda sucks, but really, I don't consider it very "safe". The show itself may feel safe and sitcomy, but I can picture the FX execs, a few months ago, having wracked their brain as to whether they should give this lunatic another show. Considering how high profile Charlie Sheen's lunacy was, I think it was more than a little daring or "edgy" to ultimately decide to back a Charlie Sheen show. So, in that sense, I think it fits their model. It just sucks that the show kinda sucks.
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You're being way too dramatic. Just because of one "safe" show it doesn't mean that FX will suddenly stop being what it is. You can put crap on Bernini's David but underneath that it's still art, you know what I'm saying?
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well said
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I'm thinking of AM as an exception to all their edgy programming? It feels to me at least like FX just wanted to snap up Charlie Sheen and have a show that would get good ratings. Thats pretty much what you said in you article too, but I doubt this means in a few years FX will be unrecognizable. I mean the networks airs lots of How I met your mother reruns too.
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I have to agree with you Tim. Aside from the whole AHS thing. This and I would have to also say the new Russel Brand show are two shows for FX that I have zero intentions of watching. And this is from someone who views FX as a guaranteed to at least watch the first couple episodes. But with these two departures from their higher quality programming I have to say that it is disappointing. I understand what they were doing when they sought Sheen. But I think what they failed to contend with is that he is a sub par actor that has a wild life. Not someone with a sub par life that plays wild characters well. He is no Bacon, or Henman, or any number of actors that play dark characters well. He is a chump that has a wild life and makes safe comedies where he plays a version of himself. And Russel brand is a buffoon that is a barely above average comedian.



I do worry about the brand that FX is. This is a departure from their quality (aside from AHS and the end of this season of SOA). I think as I stated in my reasons for not watching the show. This is taking a spot from something better. The League, Louie, Archer, Wilfred and Always funny are all hilarious and boundary pushing comedies. This is something that belongs on a network. A standard sitcom that is safe and appeals to the lowest common denominator.



AHS, the end of SOA this season I fear were signs of FX slipping. This is a sign to further that presumption. I hope they don't go down the road that we suspect they might be headed down. Because FX has brought some of my favorite shows to the screen. Shows that could not have existed on another network. Justified, Archer, The Shield. etc. If they go down this path then where are these types of shows going to come from.
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Good article Tim.
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I know it's summer and there's not a lot to write about but this article seems a bit sensationalist. After many years of fine fx programming which i think is great they put out ONE show that follows the sitcom pattern.



Fire and brimstone reign down and now FX isnt taking anymore risks and all their creative juices are hindered!!!! Their greatness is gone forever! I do love op-ed's.



On a side note: i also just think the people at tv.com dislike charlie sheen. Every article that ever mentions him or a show he's in is incredibly negative.
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have to agree here. There is nothing wrong with attracting bigger names to garuntee an audience wether you are producing fine television or going through a slump.



I'm from UK so I get most of my USA television network knowledge from this site. And therefor without researching the three big names I can remember off the top of my head connected to FX right now (2 mentioned in this article) are Charlie Sheen, Russell Brand and Kurt Sutter. These 3 characters aren't exactly known for being safe, family morales over quality and artistic integrity or even controversty so not people I would define as 'safe'.
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I think they were just putting the training wheels on....safety first... why wreck the crazy train.... ease old charlie- (who knows how messed up he is ... he seemed tweaked in a few scenes to me) -back into working... give him simple tasks, simple lines... simple story... if all goes well, and IF anyone is still watching, take the wheels off and let that mother @#$# derail. in a somewhat controlled environment.
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Staff
Agreed with everything in this article. Except for the last part. Kevin James was excellent in King of Queens. Wouldn't mind seeing him in another sitcom.
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