The announcement that FX has ordered 90 more episodes of Charlie Sheen’s critically maligned ratings hit Anger Management has brought out the expected (and not undeserved) groans from the public. This 90 episode pick-up has been the plan from the beginning. The model, initially developed by television syndication distributor Debmar-Mercury for Tyler Perry’s three TBS sitcoms, ditches the usual one-season-at-a-time approach for TV renewals. Instead, if the first 10 episodes meet a certain ratings threshold, the network agrees to be in for 90 more, securing the show’s place in the potentially lucrative realm of syndication. Craziest of all, those 90 episodes of Anger Management, like they were for Perry’s shows, will be produced in just two years.
While the thought of that much more Anger Management may induce headaches, it makes sense as a business proposition. For Lionsgate, the studio that developed the show, it’s a way to rake in syndication profits immediately. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lionsgate and Debmar-Mercury (the studio’s subsidiary) have already sold the show’s rights in Canada, Scandinavia, Australia, and additional locales “for roughly $600,000 an episode, more than what established sitcom hits Seinfeld and Sheen's own Two and a Half Men commanded out of the gate.” Producing 90 episodes in just two years rather than four or five also keeps costs down for everyone. And for FX, the 90-episode deal ensures that a show that’s bringing in huge advertising dollars stays on the air as long as possible. (FX won’t necessarily air all 90 new episodes over the next two years—the network can parcel them out over a longer period if it sees fit. )
There are potential downsides to the 10-90 plan. Not every show that is “winning” in first-run ratings will duplicate that success in syndication—shows like The Cosby Show and Happy Days failed to deliver the anticipated ratings gold. Anger Management seems like a strong bet, though, given the syndicated success of Sheen’s previous hit Two and a Half Men. But this formula is not a great bet for every network or production team—Sheen and Tyler Perry are rare, consistent television brands whose presence seems to keep fans coming back for more.
And will the show suffer creatively? No more than it already has, according to what Troy Patterson and many other critics said in their initial reviews. While the folks behind Anger Management and Perry’s successful sitcoms may beg to differ, the 10-90 formula is not conducive to creating anything beyond lowbrow entertainment. But that seems to be what Lionsgate, FX, and Charlie Sheen’s fans want. There are no losers here.