After a 3-year break, The Drew Carey Show creator/showrunner Bruce Helford is making a splashy return to the business with Anger Management, the new Charlie Sheen sitcom which just sold to FX with an initial order for 10-episodes, which if successful will be followed by a 90-episode pickup. Helford will write/run the series, based on the 2003 Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson movie about a mild-mannered man (Sandler) ordered to attend group anger-management sessions led by a volatile therapist (Nicholson). But while the movie centered on Sandler’s character, the series will be about the therapist, played by Sheen, and his life. “It’s all about Charlie’s life as a therapist who has as many or more problems than his patients,” Helford said. “He is a guy who has anger issues and wants to work on them.” Like Sheen’s previous series, Two And A Half Men, where the lead character was tailored to reflect Sheen’s image at the time of the show’s creation – a bad-boy swinging bachelor – Anger Management too will incorporate elements from Sheen’s current life. His character has an ex-wife whom he is close to as well as a 13-year old daughter. “He is always on call for his family and his patients,” Helford said, adding that Sheen’s character won’t only see his patients in the office but will also do appointments in real-life social situations.
Helford landed the gig on Anger Management thanks to his extensive comedy showrunner experience, his instant rapport with Sheen … and Skype. Helford’s last project before Anger Management was the 2008 Fox pilot Starting Under starring Bernie Mac. Three months after shooting the pilot, Bernie Mac passed away, and his sudden death had a profound effect on Helford. “I said to myself: life is too short, I should be hanging with my kids after so many years of barely seeing them because of crazy 18-hour work days.” He did just that, but now that both of his children are in college, he started thinking about returning to television. (He also got a nudge from his wife who became increasingly frustrated by him hanging around the house for so long.) But he didn’t plan to do it right away and took a summer vacation. Helford, who doesn’t fly, had just come off a ship in New York after a trip to the U.K. to visit his daughter in college when he got a call about a meeting with Sheen and producer Lionsgate TV on Anger Management. “Can you fly back to meet with Charlie?” they asked. “Not really,” was Helford’s answer. “I’m always in the wrong place,” he laments. Lionsgate set up the first meeting between Helford and Sheen via Skype while the writer-producer was still in New York. It took him 4 days to drive from New York to Los Angeles. He used that time to flesh out his idea for the show and kept in touch with Sheen via Skype as the two had hit it off right off the bat. Like anyone else, Helford was aware of Sheen’s controversial media blitz this past spring that resulted in the actor’s firing from Two And A Half Men. But when he met him, Helford found him to be the same Charlie Sheen he remembered from their days at ABC when the two crossed paths a number of times, mostly when doing promos for Spin City, where Sheen replaced original star Michael J. Fox, and The Drew Carey Show. “He is a bigger than life character,” Helford said. “He was really anxious to get back to work and do something smarter, I think that was very important to him. He is a strong actor. He hasn’t had an opportunity to tap into that in awhile, but he is capable of playing much more complicated characters.”
After 3 years on the sidelines, Helford will now be going from 0 to 100 mph in no time. Lionsgate is already setting up production offices for Anger Management as filming on the first 10-episode order is slated to begin early next year for a summer premiere on FX. Helford has already enlisted comedy veteran Sam Simon (The Simpsons, Taxi, Cheers), who was a writer-director on his Drew Carey Show to join him on the new series. Helford also is reactivating his production shingle Mohawk, which had been dormant for the past couple of years. As for the prospect of producing 100 episodes on an accelerated schedule for a fall 2014 syndication launch, it doesn’t phase him. “I’ve run 4 series at the same time, producing over 100 episodes a season, so for me this is not going to be so unusual, it is pretty much me in my normal mode,” Helford says. While it happened much faster than he had planned, Helford gets to jump from hiatus to a high-profile project many other showrunners were pursuing and is grateful for the opportunity. “I’m very fortunate to be able to do this with Charlie, Joe Roth and Lionsgate,” he said. “I don’t think I would be truly happy without being able to create. I took the breather I needed, my batteries are charged, and now I’m ready to go.”