Because of the arguable success of Anger Management, FX gave Saint George this same 10/90 model, even though there’s nothing special about the program. George Lopez is affable and Danny Trejo, definitely slumming it, at least looks like he’s having some fun. Still, the show as a whole is as bland as expected. In a way, the jokes are acceptably mediocre — nothing is laugh-out-loud funny, but nothing is overwhelmingly bad, either. Mostly, it elicits a very basic, “Oh, I guess I should have laughed at that” reaction. It is a sitcom that will surely find its niche audience and quietly fade into the background for a few years. The ratings aren’t in yet, but it’s basically guaranteed that it will get those additional 90 episodes.
The key to this 10/90 model is to pick the programs very carefully: they must be fairly cheap to produce (Anger Management lacks superstars outside of Sheen and has only a few different sets — the only plots the show explores are “Charlie Sheen sits in a circle with angry therapy patients” and “Charlie Sheen has sex with a beautiful woman who will not appear next week”) and they must have some kind of main attraction at the center. TBS banked on the star power of Tyler Perry, who had been consistently killing it at the box office. Anger Management had Charlie Sheen’s can’t-look-away, disastrous-downfall appeal. Saint George has, well, George Lopez.
Lopez’s fans love him, and he’s already proven his sitcom chops. ABC’s George Lopez (oddly produced by Sandra Bullock) ran for six seasons and even netted 10.4 million viewers during the second. FX is really hoping to cash in on these Lopez fans with Saint George. In the show, George Lopez plays “George Lopez” a “working class Mexican-American turned successful entrepreneur” — a fictionalized version of the comedian that appeals to fans of his real persona.
The 10/90 model isn’t without its problems — the ratings can decline, episodes can get repetitive, and the world can get stuck with too many hours of Charlie Sheen being Charlie Sheen. This approach can come off as the television version of an assembly line, making the shows feel deeply impersonal (though I imagine creators and writers are just glad to have a few years of guaranteed work). Also, because of the lack of corporate involvement, these shows aren’t going to get many notes demanding that episodes get better. On the other hand, it’s not too risky. Only one program so far has failed to hit the necessary ratings within the first ten episodes (Comedy Central’s Big Lake, though at least its failure fit in well with star Chris Gethard’s “lose well” philosophy). FX has given the same deal to the upcoming Braddock & Jackson, a buddy lawyer comedy starring the unlikely (but intriguing) duo of Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence. I have no doubts that show will last forever, and neither does FX.
For now, this model has mostly been confined to FX and TBS because both are networks that feature safe sitcoms built for longevity (and both rely heavily on reruns, especially FX’s expansion FXX, so it makes sense to craft shows pre-built for syndication). It wouldn’t be the best fit for broadcast networks like NBC, which focuses its programs more on strong narrative arcs and long character development. (Fox has come the closest by killing single pilots and ordering entire seasons.) But, as evidenced by the news that Lionsgate TV has hired a producer specifically to oversee 10/90 deals, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more of this from FX — and it’s easy to see it expanding to other networks from there.