Two and a Half Men creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre is not necessarily a shy guy. But when it comes to the recent events surrounding Two and a Half Men, Lorre has remained silent — until now.
Timed to TV Guide Magazine's Fall Preview issue, which features the first sit-down interview with new Two and a Half Men castmates Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones, Lorre finally agreed to discuss why he decided to keep Two and a Half Men going after star Charlie Sheen was fired. He's also honest in admitting that Kutcher wasn't his first choice for the gig — which he originally envisioned in a whole different way.
Lorre found himself thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when Sheen, struggling with addiction issues, agreed to take a break from the show (which shut down production).
But just as Sheen was about to go back to work, the star went public and began trashing CBS and Men producer Warner Bros. TV. Sheen saved the most incendiary vitriol for Lorre, even using terms that many construed as anti-Semitic against his boss. (When the studio and network decided that Sheen was no longer fit to perform, the actor was then fired.)
Lorre decided not to publicly respond to Sheen's taunts, other than subtly via his production company vanity cards, which run at the end of his three shows (Men, The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly). In one card, he admitted to growing "thicker skin" after recent events. In another, he told a parable of a sea turtle and a wolf that was clearly an allegory for his relationship with Sheen.
Because of ongoing litigation — Sheen has sued Lorre, the studio and network over his firing, which has gone to arbitration — Lorre still isn't talking about the events or the aftermath of Sheen's implosion. (Insiders say Lorre was invited to participate, or at least attend, Comedy Central's Roast of Charlie Sheen this past weekend but he opted not to.)
But he's now ready to talk about the show again. That includes the hiring of Kutcher, which was first suggested by CBS. Says Cryer: "When Ashton's name was first mentioned, Chuck really couldn't get a handle on how to work him into this show. He was sort of reaching out saying, OK what do you think? And I thought, well, that's a different show. I don't know how you do it either, Chuck."
Those worries evaporated once Kutcher and Lorre sat down to hash out ideas. Before coming up with Walden Schmidt, "we played with a lot of very bizarre notions for what the character could be," Kutcher says. "I thought we settled on something, and then found out it was completely different from what we talked about but equally interesting... There was an offer that day." Cryer remembers talking to Lorre after that meeting: "He was elated. He was saying, 'I think I got it.'"
Now, with five episodes in the can, Two and a Half Men is already back to being a well-oiled machine. A sense of newness, even as Men enters its ninth season, has given the aging sitcom a fresh coat of paint on and off the set.
Going through the motions like they're a new show has given everyone involved with the series "a shot of adrenaline," says co-creator Lee Aronsohn. Here's what Lorre has to say about his Two and a Half Men reboot:
TV Guide Magazine: What made you decide to keep the show going? Was there ever a point where you thought Two and a Half Men might not continue?
Lorre: It just seemed like a shame not to try and keep this incredible ensemble, writing staff and crew together. And yes, there were many times I thought the show would stumble to an ignoble ending.
TV Guide Magazine: What would have happened had you not landed a new actor by the upfronts?
: I assume we'd be discussing that ignoble ending.
TV Guide Magazine: When Ashton's name first came up, Jon Cryer mentioned that you were a bit hesitant. That all changed after you met with Ashton. When and how did you realize that Ashton would be a great fit?
Lorre: I was completely convinced that we needed a forty-something co-star who would be a peer to Jon. When I met Ashton, then went back and watched his films and TV work, it was obvious my assumption was wrong. Here was a guy with great comedy instincts, tons of experience, and who is totally fearless — taking the job proves that. Most importantly, he has a big heart that I thought would be a huge asset in creating a character we could care for.
TV Guide Magazine: From what I understand, the plan for Hugh Grant (who was originally approached for the job) would have pretty much kept the same character dynamic that has been in place on the show. But with Ashton, you guys have come up with a whole new kind of relationship. As Jon Cryer says, the show has been somewhat flipped: Alan is now a mentor of sorts to the needy Walden. How did you come up with the character? And talk about putting a new twist on the show.
Lorre: I'd seen Ashton play an emotionally wounded character in a few films and it was really powerful — a handsome leading man, with big comedy chops, capable of showing his vulnerabilities. I thought if we could capture that right out of the gate we'd be on our way to creating a really interesting, three-dimensional character.
TV Guide Magazine: Does this give a whole new shot in the arm to the show? How many more years can you imagine Two and a Half Men running?
Lorre: It feels like the best of both worlds: a well-developed series and a brand new one at the same time. How long? I don't have a clue. I just know I love what we're doing and hope people feel the same way.
TV Guide Magazine: Without giving away the storyline, it's clear you guys "go there" in the first episode (in which Sheen's character is killed off). What can you say about it, is it simply about keeping true to the show's reputation for outrageous humor?
Lorre: Like I said, it's still a show that veers into the vaguely unacceptable. If, in the past, you enjoyed thinking, "I can't believe they just did that raunchy joke," you will not be disappointed in Two and a Half Men 2.0.
TV Guide Magazine: Has there been a moment yet where you, Lee and the other producers stood there in awe and celebrated the fact that you managed to pull this off?
Lorre: The night we shot the first show was electric. The audience just went crazy. I think we were all giddy and humbled by the experience. It was one of the most memorable moments in my career.
To read the first-ever interview with the new Two and a Half Men cast, along with creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre's first public comments on the show's reboot, pick up the Fall Preview issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands now.