Marietta native Brett Butler and Charlie Sheen have a lot in common.
Both actors starred in sitcoms created by Chuck Lorre. Both had run-ins with Lorre. Both had substance-abuse problems that led to their departures from said sitcoms. Both share the same manager.
And now both are on the same new sitcom on FX: “Anger Management,” debuting at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 28.
Butler, 54, plays a recurring role as a bartender, dispensing jokes — along with drinks and advice — to Sheen’s deliberately ironic role as an anger management therapist. (Sheen was fired last year from CBS’s “Two and a Half Men” after entering substance rehabilitation and publicly lambasting Lorre.)
“I knew I wanted her on the show,” said Sheen while appearing with Butler as guests on “The Wendy Williams Show” earlier this week. “I wanted to welcome her back to television where she belongs. To have an expert of her caliber back there is just aces.”
Butler, a stand-up comic, broke into TV in a big way in 1993, starring in her own ABC comedy “Grace Under Fire,” playing a sharp-tongued single mom. But her addiction to painkillers impacted the show and led to its premature demise after five seasons.
“It’s amazing, not just that I didn’t die, but that somebody didn’t kill me,” Butler told TV Guide last year. “The Hollywood experience is so surreal to begin with. To add drugs to it, it’s like you’re inside a kaleidoscope. And by the time I started feeling besieged, it was much worse than I knew.”
For much of the past decade, she had lived in semi-exile in northwest Georgia on a farm in Floyd County. According to a story in the Hollywood Reporter last year, she ran out of money at one point and lived in a homeless shelter.
She is now trying to make a comeback in Hollywood, which included a recent appearance on CBS’s “The Young and the Restless.”
Butler, who was not available for an interview, told talk show host Williams she has been sober for 13 years. “I’m kind of boring now. Sobriety is good.”
When Williams asked Butler and Sheen about the similar problems each has faced, Butler said, “We really don’t talk about it.”
Bruce Helford, executive producer of “Anger Management,” said Butler was “sweet as can be” during the show’s taping. “We’re happy to reintroduce her back to the TV audience.”
The first episode dispenses with his past quickly. It starts with Sheen, close up to the camera, yelling at someone:
“You can’t fire me. I quit!
You think you can replace me with another guy. Go ahead, it won’t be the same.”
“You may think I’m losing, I’m …”
We pull back and find out Sheen is doing an anger management exercise.
Unlike “Two and a Half Men,” this is Sheen’s concept, with his creative imput. “I run every story by him,” Helford said. “He can bring Denise Richards [his ex] to the show. He has hid dad Martin on the show. I want him to be invested in the show. He told me he had more fun taping this show over six weeks than he did for eight years on ‘Two and a Half Men.’ ”
Helford said he “wanted to make Charlie’s character smarter and more complex” than the one on “Two and a Half Men,” Helford said. “He’s more evolved. He’s sophisticated and educated.”
He said Sheen noted, while reading the scripts, “Wow! I’ve got something to say besides joking about girls.”
“Anger Management” is very much a conventional three-camera sitcom, compared to the edgier fare FX usually doles out such as “Louie” and “Wilfred.” But this show will air at 9 p.m. as opposed to 10 or 10:30 p.m. “The idea is to have something that won’t be so odd for the audience coming out of earlier programming,” he said (including repeats of “Two and a Half Men.”)
The show’s financial model is similar to that pioneered by Tyler Perry: a test run of ten episodes, followed by 90 episodes guaranteed if it does well. This way, a decent syndication run can be shot in just one year with two episodes taped a week. The trade-off: no live audience. But they do screen it before a live audience after the fact to generate genuine laughs.
Sheen, who gets in trouble when left idle, joked with Helford that he wants to be kept busy. If the show does well and gets those 90 extra episodes, he will indeed be busy for a year.
9 p.m. Thursdays, FX.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk