By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A year after his public meltdown, Charlie Sheen is returning from Hollywood's purgatory with a flourish, appearing in two commercials ahead of a new TV show this summer -- all playing off the bad boy image that got him in trouble in the first place.
Sheen's return to TV after being fired in March 2011 from hit sitcom "Two and A Half Men" is currently playing out in TV ads for satellite company DirecTV and carmaker Fiat in which the 46-year-old star displays his trademark smirk and even extols the virtue of "house arrest" after racing the Fiat 500 Abarth through the halls of a mansion.
"He is who he is, and we're not going to change that," said his long-time manager Mark Burg, who plotted a series of TV appearances last year he now refers to Sheen's "mea culpa tour."
On June 28, Sheen's new show, aptly titled "Anger Management" and loosely based on the 2003 movie of the same name, launches on cable channel FX. In the show, Sheen plays "a stalled minor league baseball prospect whose road to the majors was sidetracked by his own struggle with anger issues," the network said in a press release.
Sheen's character becomes a "non traditional therapist specializing in anger management" after he goes through his own therapy.
The show is a leap of faith that Sheen has overcome his issues with drug and alcohol abuse, FX president John Landgraf acknowledged during a presentation to television critics in January. "We're a network that likes to take risks," he said.
Sheen's role is "the character that Charlie ought to be playing at this point in the sense that he is a character who has a checkered past but is pretty self aware, is struggling in a very honest way with that checkered past and desire to do more positive things in his life," Landgraf said.
'MEA CULPA' TOUR
By the time Sheen pitched FX on the program, manager Burg already was in full image-altering mode. He had hired Larry Solters, a veteran of public relations makeovers and crisis management, to direct the star to appear on talk programs such as "Today" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
Sheen began apologizing for erratic behavior that included undertaking a short-lived substance abuse rehabilitation effort in his home and often rambling interviews and Web videos in which he criticized "Two and a Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre.
The "mea culpa" tour highlight was an appearance on cable's "Comedy Central Roast" last September, where Mike Tyson, William Shatner and Jon Lovitz were among those who hurled good-natured jabs at the star. With 6.4 million viewers in its first airing, the roast was the show's highest rated installment, the network said in a press release.
The actor also turned up that month on the Emmys, U.S. TV's top honor show, where he wished his old colleagues on "Two and a Half Men" "nothing but the best" for their current season.
Now comes his current wave of promotion meant to re-introduce the actor to fans as a new version of the same man who helped make "Two and a Half Men" the most watched comedy on TV and even turned out last year for his one-man stage show, "My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option."
Sheen is scheduled for an interview on "Today" on Thursday, and he plans to appear the next day on "The Wendy Williams Show," a syndicated talk show.
Burg says he has turned down offers from "health drink companies" and others who simply wanted Sheen to endorse a product. "He is not a TV spokesperson," said his manager.
But other companies started calling with offers for major campaigns that gave a wink and nod to Sheen's bad boy image. Fiat, for instance, had a vision for a car that "is cool, hip and not for the geek," Burg said.
Putting Sheen's new show on FX, the cable TV channel that launched "Nip/Tuck," seemed a natural for the network that Burg called "edgier than some others."
Sheen owns a "significant piece" of "Anger Management," which Burg says is "smarter than 'Two and a Half Men' ever was. You won't see Charlie doing hick jokes, talking about pooh pooh or laying in bed with bimbos."
The actor has 100 reasons to maintain his newly crafted kinder image. FX only ordered 10 episodes. But if his fans return to the star's side and ratings for the show are good, his deal stipulates that the cable network orders 90 more.
One hundred episodes has long been a key goal for shows to begin selling into syndication worldwide, and if Sheen does get that new deal, then he really will have escaped purgatory and landed in Hollywood's heaven, again.
(Reporting By Ronald Grover; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)