Every day, when Kurt Sutter arrives at the Sons of Anarchy set in North Hollywood, he gets a not-so-subtle reminder from wife and costar Katey Sagal on how to behave. Hanging on his office wall is a sign that says ''Work Hard and Be Nice to People,'' a gift Sagal gave him after he posted a series of news-making tweets this past summer that took a hard line against Emmy voters (the show and Sagal have been repeatedly snubbed) and AMC's replacing of The Walking Dead's Frank Darabont (Sutter blamed it on ''greed of Mad Men,'' referencing Men creator Matthew Weiner's contract renegotiation). ''Katey got very upset because she felt like I was really hurting myself,'' explains Sutter, 48. ''But there's not a lot of gray area with me. People either get it and appreciate my passion and my outspokenness, or they just think I'm an a--hole.''
Clearly it's the former, or else Sons of Anarchy wouldn't be, at 8.6 million weekly viewers, FX's most watched drama ever. Sutter's self-described ''soap opera'' about outlaw bikers has already received a fifth-season pickup, thanks to this year's high-octane story line about aging club leader Clay (Ron Perlman) and his controversial decision to get the Sons into the drug trade. ''Clay is in full-on panic mode,'' says Sutter, who got his start at FX by writing for The Shield. ''He's seeing his power and manhood slowly slip away, and he wants to go out with as big a piece of the pie as he possibly can.'' The story has become so rich that Sutter (''in my pretentious Shakespearean archetype'') sees this season as the end of Act 2 and envisions the show wrapping after season 7 a decision the network supports. ''Obviously we're doing well, and I'd really have to f--- it up for us not to get seven seasons.''
And God help anyone who tries to get in his way. On Oct. 24, Sutter once again vented his expletive-filled rage in cyberspace, ranting on his blog about threats by DirecTV to yank FX's signal over a carriage dispute. ''It's been a really big and ambitious season and our numbers are growing from week to week, so to have this bulls--- f---ing with our numbers, it just kills me,'' he says. Sutter's courage and frankness do not go unappreciated. ''He makes me laugh,'' admits FX president John Landgraf. ''The truth is, his persona makes TV a more interesting place.'' And though he temporarily quit Twitter in August after his tweets made headlines (''It turned into something that really made me look nuts''), his fans were thrilled when he resumed nearly a month later. After all, Sutter, who began his career in theater before getting his break with The Shield, is happy that he finally created a show worth fighting for. ''My career is littered with half-started projects I learned enough about myself to know that unless I'm passionate about something, it's hard for me to commit to it,'' says Sutter. ''The flip side of that coin is once I am passionate about it, I'll die for it.''