It didn't take long for CBS to start planning life after Charlie Sheen, who was fired Monday off Monday night staple Two and a Half Men. Sheen is already nowhere to be seen in CBS' latest Monday night promo, an ad promoting a comedy lineup partnership with Verizon (currently running on the network's website).
Instead, former Two and a Half Men cast mate Jon Cryer is front and center in the spot (along with other Monday night stars, such as How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris). It's safe to say that prior to the Sheen meltdown, he would have been prominently featured in a spot touting the stars of CBS comedy.
Sheen hasn't completely disappeared from CBS — he'll continue to appear on the network via reruns, which are still a strong ratings draw and will likely remain in the same time slot through May. And late Monday, CBS' Two and a Half Men web page was even running a photo essay of Sheen's "best moments" — which might be construed as a farewell feature about the actor.
But beyond publicity and marketing the show in a post-Sheen era, Warner Bros. TV, CBS and creator Chuck Lorre have a tougher task ahead of them: Figuring out what to do with TV's most-watched comedy sans its signature star.
Warner Bros. TV had secured Two and a Half Men on CBS through the 2011-2012 TV season — the show's ninth — at a price of about $4 million an episode. But that deal is nullified now that Sheen is gone, meaning Warner Bros. TV will likely have to accept a smaller license fee from CBS should the show continue. (Success is not guaranteed without Sheen, after all.)
Of course, Warner Bros. will no longer be on the fence for the $1.4 million it pays Sheen per episode (which balloons to $1.8 million when profit participation is thrown in).
But should the show continue without Sheen, insiders confirm that Warner Bros. TV would at least continue to reap the same syndication dollars as before. The studio currently receives more than $1 million per episode for the show in broadcast syndication, and another $800,000 from FX for cable rights. That doesn't change, so long as the show is in production.
But that is a big "if." "Is it the writing or is it Charlie?" one exec asks about the appeal of Two and a Half Men. "A fresh new talent could give it a rebirth. Or kill it."
Star departures are nothing new; NBC is undergoing a similar changing of the guard this year as Steve Carell departs The Office. And Sheen himself stepped in when Michael J. Fox exited Spin City.
"They'd be foolish not to see if they can keep the Chuck Lorre magic going," says one rival network executive. "Charlie Sheen isn't the only funny actor out there. There's an opportunity to do this, if you cast it well and write the show well."
Hollywood's next great parlor game may very well be trying to armchair cast Sheen's replacement. Talk of John Stamos has already been chalked up to a joke by CBS CEO Leslie Moonves at an Oscar party, but now that Sheen's officially gone, anything's possible.
The decision to go forward will likely come down to Lorre, and whether the executive producer feels the show still has some life in it. Lorre is behind two more CBS/Warner Bros. collaborations, The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly, so neither company would want to pressure Lorre into doing something he's loathe to do.
Network pundits believe Two and a Half Men without Sheen would stir enough curiosity to open big, but would likely settle below Sheen numbers (the show is entering season nine, after all). Still, "a fragment of a successful show would probably perform better than any new show," one insider suggests.
Warner Bros. TV hasn't released Cryer or Angus T. Jones to pursue other TV work, which means they're seriously plans to keep the show afloat. (There's also always the chance that all of this still blows over and Sheen ultimately is rehired.) But if Two and a Half Men doesn't continue, then CBS will have a major scheduling problem on its hands. The network moved The Big Bang Theory to Thursdays this year in order to open a new night of comedy. But if Two and a Half Men is DOA, then CBS may want to move Bang back to protect its Monday night comedy dominance.
If anything, the Sheen saga has turned CBS and Warner Bros. TV — which often spar like siblings — into a united front. The network and studio, which jointly operate the CW network, are partners on several fronts, and execs from both sides formerly worked together at the studio. Those relationships have been strained over the years — even leading to a lawsuit over Two and a Half Men, when Warner Bros. TV accused CBS of underpaying for the show. But it's also helped fuse the two into a united front in their dealings with Sheen.
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