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Will Sheen Get Payne Treatment on New Show?

Charlie Sheen will star in Anger Management, a new sitcom produced by Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios in conjunction with Lionsgate and distributed by Lionsgate’s owned but independently operated Debmar-Mercury.

While Lionsgate and Debmar have managed to net the star, the process of selling Sheen’s new show has just begun.

Securing Sheen’s services allows Debmar- Mercury and Revolution Studios to begin the difficult task of locating the perfect showrunner to turn Anger Management into a hit. Sheen’s relationship with Two and a Half Men creator and showrunner Chuck Lorre deteriorated and led to Sheen’s very public rant against Lorre and the star’s dismissal from Men, but Lorre created the show specifically for Sheen. The proof of that success is in the show’s continued strong ratings.

“We won’t do anything until we have a showrunner,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury, a title he shares with Mort Marcus. “That’s our first goal.”

Once a showrunner is hired, Debmar- Mercury will officially take Anger Management to market.

Among possible business models for the new show, Debmar-Mercury is considering the one it originated in 2006 with writer-producer Tyler Perry to distribute his sitcom, House of Payne. In that model, Perry himself paid to produce 10 episodes and Fox aired them in a test. The test performed well; TBS placed an order for another 90 original episodes while Fox and other station groups acquired the syndication rights in a total deal worth an estimated $200 million, including cable and broadcast cash license fees and advertising barter time.

Debmar has used the same model with two other Perry shows—Meet the Browns and For Better Or Worse—and with TBS’ Are We There Yet?, produced by Revolution’s Roth and Ice Cube. Another Debmar show, Big Lake, produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions, was tested on Comedy Central but was not picked up to series.

House of Payne’s $200 million may sound like a hefty price tag, but it’s actually a bargain considering that most network sitcoms can cost as much as $2-$3 million per episode to produce. The biggest sitcoms— such as Twoand a Half Men, Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond—cost significantly more than that once they became hits in syndication and their stars demanded sky-high salaries.

By contrast, House of Payne cost a reported $500,000 per episode to produce. That’s on the very low end of the cost spectrum and makes this model very attractive to participants.

Bernstein and Marcus say that while they will use the “10-90” model as a guideline, they are open to suggestions when it comes to finalizing a deal.

“We always have an open mind,” says Bernstein. “Being an independent, we have room to play around. There aren’t any rules.”

Bernstein and Marcus have not started shopping the sitcom yet, they said, and several cable networks and other potential buyers confirmed that.

That said, Sheen’s new sitcom has plenty of potential bidders.

Turner’s TBS, which has acquired all of the Perry sitcoms, would be considered the show’s most likely buyer. Some sources raised the question of whether Time Warner-owned Turner would be willing or able to get back into business with Sheen considering the trouble he caused sister company Warner Bros. Television. TBS would only say that no talks about Sheen’s new show have been held. TBS would likely want to at least get a look at Sheen’s new project before deciding outright.

Other candidates include NBCUniversal’s USA Network, which acquired Twentieth’s Modern Family for approximately $2.5 million an episode and has stated that it plans to expand into comedy; News Corp.’s FX, which airs Two and a Half Men in syndication; Viacom’s Comedy Central, which acquired 30 Rock in a share with Tribune’s WGN America; and WGN America, which has been on a comedy buying spree in recent years in an effort to build its brand.

Other potential buyers include relatively new entrants into this market: online video distributors Netflix and Hulu. Both upstart companies have recently done deals with Lionsgate and Debmar-Mercury. Last week, Hulu acquired the exclusive digital rights to stream all nine seasons of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen to Hulu Plus subscribers.

Earlier this year, Lionsgate licensed seven seasons of AMC’s Emmy-winning Mad Men, which Lionsgate produces, to Netflix for approximately $1 million an episode. Also, Epix, the multiplatform joint video venture between Viacom’s Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, last year entered into a five-year, $1-billion agreement with Netflix to stream new and library titles from the three studios.

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