He may claim to be fortified by tiger blood and Adonis DNA, but to Warner Bros., Charlie Sheen’s conduct of the past few weeks paved the way for his firing Monday by proving him incapable of living up to his obligations as the star of “Two and a Half Men.”
In the latest twist in the extraordinary saga, Warner Bros. formally notified the actor of his termination with a lengthy letter that spelled out in detail the studio’s position on the Sheen-“Men” imbroglio for the first time. The studio cited an “incapacity” clause in Sheen’s contract as grounds for the termination, as well as a clause relating to “moral turpitude” and Sheen’s statements that he would no longer work with “Men” co-creator and showrunner Chuck Lorre.
Now Warner Bros. faces the prospect of fighting off the expected breach of contract suit from Sheen as well as the creative challenge of remaking “Men” without Sheen — should the network, studio and Lorre decide to go that route. Warner Bros. said no final decision has been made about the future of the show, which has another season in its current contract with CBS.
After weeks of uncertainty, the studio and CBS now must also come to terms with the undeniable loss of millions of dollars from the demise of the original “Men,” which has been a cash cow for Warner Bros. in syndication and draws top-dollar ad rates for CBS. Warner Bros. and CBS will undoubtedly renegotiate the estimated $4.5 million license fee that CBS pays for the show now that it no longer has its marquee star.
With all the profits at stake, Warner Bros. was spurred to ax Sheen by, among other factors, the allegations that he made threatening statements against two of his ex-wives in recent days (one of whom obtained a restraining order against him last week), along with his child custody issues.
Although the letter did not go into detail about Sheen’s family issues, it cited a termination clause that can be invoked “if producer in its reasonable but good faith opinion believes performer has committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude under federal, state or local laws … (or) to the extent such event interferes with performer’s ability to fully and completely render all material services.”
“I think this letter puts to rest the argument that this dispute was ever about anything other than Sheen’s addiction, like creative differences or antagonism between Sheen and Chuck Lorre,” USC law professor Jack Lerner told Variety. “It describes a series of addiction-related events that took place before Sheen’s outburst. And many of these are verifiable.”
Sheen’s lawyers previously cast the shuttering of the show as a case of Warner Bros. siding with Lorre after Sheen publicly bashed the showrunner who has major clout on the Warners lot.
Sheen has been promising to take legal action against the studio ever since Warner Bros. TV and CBS made the decision to shutter “Men” for the rest of this season on Feb. 24 based on Sheen’s increasingly bizarre behavior and public statements and reports, some in his own words, of his zeal for a hard-partying lifestyle.
In a statement issued to TMZ, Sheen cast the termination letter as “good news.”
“They continue to be in breach, like so many whales,” Sheen said. “It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of their bazillions, never have to look at whatshiscock again and I never have to put on those silly shirts for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension.”
In the 11-page letter to Sheen (followed by 10 pages of end notes) that was posted online by TMZ, Warner Bros. TV cited evidence that Sheen is “self-destructive” and “very ill.”
“Let us state the obvious: Your client has been engaged in dangerously self-destructive conduct and appears to be very ill,” the letter said. “For months before the suspension of production, Mr. Sheen’s erratic behavior escalated while his condition deteriorated. His declining condition undermined the production in numerous and significant ways. Now, the entire world knows Mr. Sheen’s condition from his alarming outbursts over just the last few weeks. Warner Bros., CBS and Chuck Lorre have done everything within their power to get Mr. Sheen the help he so badly and obviously needs.
“In halting production of ‘Two and a Half Men’ (the “show”) for the remainder of the season and suspending Mr. Sheen’s employment on the show, Warner Bros. took the only responsible action open to it — morally and legally — in these painful circumstances.”
The letter goes on to rebut Sheen’s tirades against showrunner Lorre, “who ironically has worked tirelessly trying to convince Mr. Sheen to seek help before he self-destructed.”
Warners also disputed Sheen’s ongoing assertion that his behavior has not affected his work performance.
“This inability to perform the essential duties of his position included Mr. Sheen’s physical appearance, inability to deliver lines, inability to collaborate creatively with staff and crew, inability to work with the executive producers, inflammatory comments poisoning key working relationships and frustration of the show’s creative environment by the public spectacle of his self-inflicted disintegration.”
The studio pointed out that when it signed Sheen to his current contract last year, the actor “had voluntarily entered a rehabilitation facility and was under professional treatment for his drug and alcohol abuse.”
Continuing through the body of the letter, WB makes numerous references to Sheen’s public statements of the past two weeks, citing the additional cumulative evidence that “made it clear he was in no condition to perform his duties as the comedic lead in the show.” The studio said that in its notice of halt of production on “Men,” it “requested from him any proposal for cure of his condition necessitating the suspension,” but none had been received.
Warner Bros. then addressed the issue of whether Sheen is owed compensation — approximately $1.25 million per episode in salary — for unproduced segments of “Men.”
“Warner Bros. is entitled to suspend Mr. Sheen’s employment under the agreement due to his ‘incapacity’ under section 12 of the standard terms and conditions,” the letter says. ” ‘Incapacity’ is defined in the agreement as including (but not limited to) ‘any physical or mental disabilities, which due to the unique nature of performer’s obligations are not subject to reasonable accommodation and which render performer unable to perform the essential duties of performer’s position.’ ”
The studio also threatened legal action against Sheen to recover damages, including lost revenue from the unfilmed episodes.
“Based on what we now know about the contract,” said Lerner, “Warner Bros. has its pick among many reasons to terminate Sheen. … Sheen’s best argument is that they drove him away, the show could have gone on and press accounts (of his actions) are speculative.”
Speculation has immediately begun on the potential of replacing Sheen and continuing with the ninth season of “Men.” Though some have dismissed the possibility out of hand, many series throughout TV history have moved after major performers departed (including, of course, Sheen replacing Michael J. Fox on ABC’s “Spin City”).
In the past year, NBC’s “The Office” has made plans for continuing without Steve Carell, while “American Idol” found new energy despite losing the personality thought to be possibly indispensable, Simon Cowell.
At any rate, no one can be said to know what will happen next with “Men.”
“Why would you watch that show without Charlie Sheen?” wondered a prominent Hollywood casting director. “He could be replaced, but you don’t have the same show without him. Out in America, though, they may not care. … CBS knows more about their audience than anyone else.”