After a three-year break from television, Bruce Helford was expecting to casually dip his toe back into the crowded entertainment pool. But when the opportunity to run Charlie Sheen’s new comedy, Anger Management, came to the springboard, Helford found himself diving headlong into the deep end.
Anger Management, premiering June 28, is being produced under Debmar- Mercury’s 10-90 model: If the first 10 episodes of a show perform well, the network immediately picks up an additional 90 episodes. The production schedule was one of many things Helford took into consideration after meeting with Lionsgate, Revolution Studios and Sheen himself, via Skype.
What the group pitched to Helford was nothing more than a title— plucked from Revolution Studios’ eponymous film that serves as the basis for the show—and a conceptual character. Helford then created a world in which Sheen is an unconventional anger management therapist with a family— an aspect of the story line Sheen was intent on adding—that included an amicable relationship with his exwife and a daughter with OCD.
Working with Sheen was not among Helford’s concerns, but the rapport he struck with the star was what Lionsgate Television Group president Kevin Beggs says made him stand out, in addition to Helford’s well-known ability to oversee multiple shows at a time.
“One of the considerations was that the schedule is accelerated, compared to traditional broadcast….Who had the temperament, the experience and the ability to organize, manage and delegate?” Beggs says of their showrunner search.
The answer was Helford, who at one point ran four shows simultaneously: ABC’s The Drew Carey Show, Norm (which he created in 1999), The WB’s Nikki (which he created in 2000) and the quirky animated series The Oblongs, which aired on both The WB and Adult Swim in 2001.
The difference, Helford says, is that with those four series, he had four different staffs over which the work was divided. For Anger, Helford says he “had to be very careful that I didn’t burn them out.”
That whirlwind of responsibility at least partly explains why Helford took a break from the business. In 1995, he created The Drew Carey Show with Carey, with whom he became friends while working on NBC’s short-lived sitcom The Good Life. Helford calls creating Drew Carey, which ran for nine seasons, “an adventure,” much like the cross-country road trips Carey and he took together between seasons.
Just as The Drew Carey Show aired its final episode, ABC premiered George Lopez, which Helford created in 2002. The series ran for six seasons, during which Helford remained as executive producer—the maximum length of time Helford thinks a creator should stay on any series.
“After six years, a creator should step out and let new blood infuse it,” he says. He points to his time on Roseanne, which he joined as a writer during its fifth season.
“I came in with all this enthusiasm, all these ideas and new stories to tell…. That whole season on Roseanne was a great season. It won a Peabody, the Humanitas and we swept the Golden Globes. I’m really proud of that year.”
With all of that success behind him, Helford received a reality check when working with the late Bernie Mac on a pilot in 2008. After Mac’s death in August of that year, Helford decided to spend time with his children before they left for college.
“I wanted to make sure that I spent good quality time with them before I started doing this again,” Helford says.
Helford’s relationship with his children is a reflection of his bond with his own parents, who, although “they didn’t know what to expect,” he says, “were incredibly supportive” when Helford moved to Los Angeles in 1978 to become an actor, which was a far cry from where Helford had previously been working—the family’s pet shop business.
And Helford came to the entertainment industry being sure of the three things he wanted in a career.
“My goal was to make a living where I didn’t have to wear a suit. I also knew that I didn’t want to do any traveling, so I had to have a job where I was locked down to a specific place,” Helford says. “And the other thing was that I really wanted to be able to say something.”
With Charlie Sheen as his new mouthpiece, Helford can rest assured that people will continue to listen.
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