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Why Getting Into Business with Charlie Sheen Is a Terrible Idea for FX

Date October 28, 2011
Why Getting Into Business with Charlie Sheen Is a Terrible Idea for FX Television is a business. Some days, it feels like 95 percent of television exists to remind us of that.

Many shows are made for cynical reasons, by cynical people, in order to rake in the cash that props up multinational corporations. So much of the time, making money is the name of the game and creativity and originality are afterthoughts, if

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Why Getting Into Business with Charlie Sheen Is a Terrible Idea for FX Television is a business. Some days, it feels like 95 percent of television exists to remind us of that.

Many shows are made for cynical reasons, by cynical people, in order to rake in the cash that props up multinational corporations. So much of the time, making money is the name of the game and creativity and originality are afterthoughts, if that.

But I've staked my career on the idea that television is more than a business, that it can be an art as well. Those of us who approach this gig with that belief -- with anything other than a cynical attitude, that is -- are liable to get blindsided by pointed reminders that cynicism and opportunism are the standard operating modes in Hollywood.

Yesterday, we got one of those reminders. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that FX got into business with Charlie Sheen via his new show, 'Anger Management,' but it was hard not to feel disappointment.

Maybe I should just think about the pragmatic reasons for the network's decision to pick up Sheen's 'Anger Management,' as many in the industry have. Maybe I should just accept that networks make decisions for mercenary reasons and move on. Maybe I should just view this, as apparently so many do, as one more chapter in the long saga of Charlie Sheen shenanigans.

Sorry, but I can't quite do all of that and just let it go. FX was one of the networks that convinced me that television can be more than a business. FX and the bolder networks out there have shown us that TV can both make money and aspire to move us on emotional, intellectual and aesthetic levels. Given that I believe in the medium in a non-cynical way, I opened myself up to the possibility of being disillusioned. My bad, I guess.

Let me be clear: I agree with critic James Poniewozik, who wrote that it's not necessarily Hollywood's job to punish Charlie Sheen for his actions and his past. But I do find it disheartening to be reminded of the double standard that still exists when it comes to rule-breaking public figures who get in trouble with the law: If they're men, they're usually seen as dangerous, edgy bad boys; if they're women, they're usually derided as awful human beings who deserve all the calumny thrown at them.

Why Getting Into Business with Charlie Sheen Is a Terrible Idea for FX Charlie Sheen's history of violence against women has been consistently ignored or waved away like it's no big deal, and he has been continually rewarded for attitudes and actions that depress the hell out of many people out here in the real world. A significant percentage of the public does not find his actions humorous but loathsome and creepy.

So I couldn't help but feel sad when a network that, for the most part, successfully threaded the needle between art and commerce got into bed with that guy. And regardless of my own response, this isn't what I would call smart brand management on FX's part. I do think there's such a thing as taking the network's image as the home of antiheroes too far. As various people said on my Twitter feed yesterday, this makes me think differently of FX now. It has to be said: I thought the network was better than this.

I don't care how much money this deal makes: It's a decision that I think damages FX's reputation and sends a message that being a disrespectful, entitled, self-absorbed jerk will get you rewarded (if you're a guy who is already wealthy and famous, that is). That's all disheartening, to say the least.

But those of us who feel that the decision to get into business with Sheen is crass and compromising don't really count, I guess, because, hey, this is how it's done. It's just business. We should stop caring so much about all that useless, irrelevant crap, because anything that's not about making a dollar is a waste of time, right?

No. It is relevant. I will fight tooth and nail not to become so cynical that I just accept industry decisions that make me feel disappointed and disillusioned. It's not my job to make and accept cold business calculations, it's my job to be one of the people who raves about the best that television can be, to be one of the people who finds the wheat among the chaff and celebrates its very existence.

It is my job, in other words, to give a sh*t. The day I care only about dollars and don't care when networks make short-sighted and depressing decisions, well, that's the day you need to come over to my house and take my laptop away from me.

Sure, on financial grounds, this decision makes sense. In every other sense, it's not at all winning.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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