CBS, Warner Bros. lock in actor before Wednesday upfront
Ashton Kutcher is poised to step in to the void on “Two and a Half Men.”The actor was wooed by Warner Bros. TV and CBS as part of an 11th-hour scramble to put the pieces in place for the hit sitcom’s return, following the ugly break with star Charlie Sheen, in time for the Eye’s upfront on Wednesday. The network and studio declined comment. But Kutcher offered a cryptic confirmation of sorts via Twitter late Thursday, tweeting, “What’s the square root of 6.25?” (Answer 2.5) Kutcher first surfaced as a contender for the role in a report posted by Broadcasting and Cable. The selection of Kutcher comes after Warner Bros. and “Men” exec producer Chuck Lorre were in hot pursuit of Hugh Grant, only to see the deal fall apart at the last minute. CBS was likely hoping to keep Kutcher’s hire under wraps until Wednesday, when the network could trot out the actor to an audience full of advertisers at the network’s upfront presentation at Carnegie Hall. Without nailing down a new cast member, the Eye faced the prospect of pushing “Men” to midseason or even cancellation, which could have lost the network and studio untold millions. The program has fetched hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and syndication revenues to date. With Kutcher on board, CBS and WB are left to the task of quickly hammering out a new deal to bring “Men” back for another season. While CBS was already on the hook for helping cover the series’ costs, the absence from the balance sheet of the nearly $1.25 million per episode in salary Sheen earned (plus more when backend fees are factored in) will certainly ease some pain. While CAA-repped Kutcher is a well-known quantity, his hire may be interpreted by some as a rush to judgment by CBS and WB, which were under the gun to get somebody to topline “Men.” And Kutcher could be somewhat of a comedown after Grant’s flirtation with the role fueled expectations that Lorre would land a star with major cachet. But the 33-year-old actor is no stranger to TV. A former model, Kutcher’s thesping career began on the long-running Fox series “That ’70s Show” in 1998, in which he played a dimwitted stoner teen. He moved on to host the breakout MTV unscripted series “Punk’d,” which also marked the start of Kutcher’s producing career on TV. Through shingle Katalyst, he’s produced a string of series for TV including The CW’s “Beauty and the Geek.” Kutcher is not expected to earn anywhere near Sheen’s salary, which was the highest among actors in primetime. But he likely didn’t come cheap either; he commanded as much as $300,000 per episode in his final season on “That ’70s Show.” Kutcher has seen mixed success at the box office. He has had his share of strong openers, including the recent romantic comedy “No Strings Attached” opposite Natalie Portman, but has struggled to transition into a leading man as flops from “The Butterfly Effect” to “Killers” can attest. The actor also has a busy side career as an investor in digital-media properties. And he has established himself as a Internet star of sorts, with more than 6 million followers on Twitter. With TV nets increasingly involved in harnessing the forces of social media for marketing to younger audiences, that massive following is an added bonus for CBS.