One of the year’s most significant scheduling strategies will begin next Thursday with the return to FX’s prime-time schedule of “Anger Management,” the Charlie Sheen sitcom that marked the actor’s jump back into television after his legendarily ballistic break from his starring role on CBS’ long-running comedy “Two and a Half Men.”
“Management” enjoyed a successful ten-episode run last summer that in effect served as a test for its long-term viability. In other words, there were questions prior to the series premiere about whether Sheen could support a new comedy, or if his popularity was tied exclusively to “Two and a Half Men.” For that matter, there were concerns about whether Sheen’s well-documented manic behavior following his departure from “Men” had compromised or otherwise weakened his fan base.
Such concerns proved ungrounded. On the night of its premiere, “Management” attracted almost six million viewers. Those numbers leveled off during its run, but they were still strong enough to ensure an unusually secure future for the show, with a production deal unique for a scripted television series.
In a vote of extreme confidence, “Management” last summer received a staggering 90-episode order and the promise of a scheduling strategy that would be similarly dynamic and generous. Beginning next Thursday, there will be a new episode of “Management” on FX’s prime time schedule almost every week for the next two years: that is, for 45 weeks during 2013 and again in 2014. (As the current plan goes, the show will take only six breaks for holidays and other reasons during each of the next two years.) By the time “Management” completes this run at the end of 2014, a total of 100 episodes will have been telecast, and the show will be ready for a lucrative run in syndication.
There hasn’t been a one-time episode order of this magnitude for a scripted television series since TBS ordered 100 episodes of “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” back in 2006 after the same kind of ten-episode run “Management” completed last year. But “Payne” wasn’t scheduled in quite so aggressive a manner.
“Management” is hardly one of television’s top sitcoms. But it’s relatively easy to watch, and that’s always a significant component in the success of any syndicated comedy series. Sheen is obviously the draw, happily spoofing his fractious public persona by playing a former minor league baseball player turned anger management therapist. But the series has attracted further attention because of the contributions of two recurring performers – Brett Butler, who plays a bartender, and Martin Sheen, as Charlie’s character’s father. Butler twenty years ago was briefly one of television’s biggest stars with her short-lived but popular sitcom “Grace Under Fire.” More recently, Martin Sheen portrayed President Josiah Bartlet in the hugely acclaimed drama “The West Wing."
In terms of the scheduling and distribution of original television series content, 2013 promises to be uncommonly interesting, if not full-on game-changing. In addition to FX’s dynamic plan for “Anger Management,” which will offer a consistency to the network’s prime-time identity throughout the year, NBC has announced that when “The Voice” returns in late March, it will run well beyond the end of the traditional broadcast season in mid-May and will conclude in late June (thus supporting the network’s summer season).
Meanwhile, NetFlix will release a fresh batch of 14 episodes of the modern comedy classic “Arrested Development” in May. Cast members have indicated that they view these new episodes of “Development” as a run-up to a possible long-rumored feature film rather than a fourth season of the show. (The first three seasons ran on Fox from 2003-06.) It's unlikely fans will regard them as such. Either way, it’s an extraordinary comeback for a series that struggled in the ratings on traditional television but found new life in new media.