If FX was mildly nervous that Charlie Sheen’s public persona may affect his chances for a comeback, this information should come as a huge relief: EW has learned that test audiences who saw the pilot of his new comedy Anger Management recently were both pleased with his new half-hour comedy and eager to see the 46-year-old actor succeed in a new series.
The majority of men and women who attended a screening of the half-hour comedy in California’s San Fernando Valley last week rated the multi-camera pilot favorably, while over 80 percent gave Sheen an enthusiastic thumbs-up for his performance as an unorthodox therapist, according to one well-placed source. The pilot that also features the comeback of Brett Butler as a bartender played even better among women in the 18-34 and 18-49 demographic.
Overall, testing groups indicated that while they were well aware of Sheen’s fall from grace at CBS, they were still excited about his comeback and actually rooting for him to succeed, the source said. Some respondents even went so far as to say they were happy to see the actor in good health.
The female characters also earned good marks for playing strong women who stood up to Sheen’s character, according to the source. Besides Butler, the comedy stars Selma Blair, Shawnee Smith, Daniela Bobadilla, Michael Arden, and Noureen DeWulf.
Results of the testing aren’t that surprising: Folks at home generally like a good comeback, and Sheen has been on a major mea culpa tour since he was canned from the hit CBS comedy. In fact, Sheen’s off-screen behavior has never seemed to hurt his work. Even while TMZ cranked out salacious headlines about his off-the-set behavior last year, Two and a Half Men remained TV’s No. 1 comedy, with Sheen still as its star. One Harris Poll even listed Sheen as the sixth most popular TV actor last year, behind CBS star Mark Harmon (who was No. 1) but ahead of David Letterman (who was at No. 9).
That said, any type of testing should be taken with a grain of salt. There are plenty of shows that test well (like this season’s The River on ABC) but hobble in their first year, while there are far too many comedies that have tested poorly (See: Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld) that ended up becoming behemoth hits. The makeup of the test audience also has an impact on the results. Did FX pull together a cross-section of America to see Sheen’s pilot or did it just invite its own viewers? FX fans are probably far more open minded and less likely to be offended by anything Sheen has done in his private life.
Anger Management will air on Thursday nights starting June 28. Ten episodes have been ordered, with an additional 90-episode pickup contingent on hitting a certain ratings benchmark. Last July, Sheen told reporters that “I chose Anger Management because, while it might be a big stretch for me to play a guy with serious anger management issues, I think it is a great concept.”