WB, CBS pursuit of parallel paths ended with Kutcher's hire

The hunt for a new man for “Two and a Half Men” began in earnest about six weeks ago.

Amid a tornado of rumors and speculation about prospective candidates to step into the void caused by Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, “Men” co-creator/exec producer Chuck Lorre and Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth met with CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler to pitch the idea of recruiting British actor Hugh Grant for the most talked-about vacancy on a hit sitcom since Suzanne Somers was booted from “Three’s Company.”

Tassler was intrigued by the idea of Grant, known for his charm in romantic comedy roles. But she also had a short list in mind, and high on her list was Ashton Kutcher. She’d been a fan of his since he first hit on Fox’s “That ’70s Show.” She also admired how he’d expanded his career beyond acting to running a production company, Katalyst, and as a social media entrepreneur who was an early adopter of Twitter. (Kutcher is closing in on 7 million followers.)

Lorre and Warner Bros. TV began aggressively pursuing Grant and his reps at CAA. Tassler reached out personally to Kutcher, who was game for further discussion and referred Tassler to his lawyer, Robert Offer of Sloane Offer Weber Dern. That made it easy for Tassler, as she’s been friendly with Offer since her days as an agent at Triad Artists in the 1980s.

In the midst of all of this outreach last month, sources close to the situation say that there was a brief period when CBS brass took a “pause” to see if there was any remote possibility that Sheen might come back into the fold. At the time, Sheen had made what could be interpreted as a conciliatory statements (in his inimitable way), and behind the scenes there was a concerted push by Sheen’s reps to reach out to Warner Bros. and CBS execs to see if there any possible way to patch things up.

The answer from WB was swift and unswerving: No. Warner Bros. reiterated to Sheen’s reps and to CBS that it had no intention of producing new episodes of “Men” with Sheen as the star. Not after enduring Sheen’s unstable behavior and the hateful statements he’d hurled at Lorre and others involved with the show.

With the clock ticking on CBS’ deadline to set its fall sked, Warner Bros. and Lorre did a full court press on Grant, having multiple creative meetings with the thesp to pitch the creative vision for his entry into “Men” in its ninth season. Grant signaled his interest strong enough for his reps at CAA to hunker down on negotiating the terms of a full season guarantee during the week of May 2.

The contract was sent to Grant in Britain on May 8, but there was no response. Warner Bros. gave CAA another day to get a yea or nay, and ultimately, it was a nay, with sources saying Grant just wasn’t up for such a lengthy commitment. By the morning of May 10, Lorre was meeting with Kutcher, and a deal came together inside of 72 hours.

“I can’t wait to get to work with this ridiculously talented team, and I believe we can fill the stage with laughter that will echo in viewers’ homes,” Kutcher said in a statement announcing the deal. “I can’t replace Charlie Sheen, but I’m going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people!”

Insiders said CBS and Warners are jazzed about the potential for Kutcher’s built-in following to bring a new group of viewers to “Men.”

“Ashton is a pop culture triple threat — film star, cutting-edge producer and a social media pioneer,” Tassler said. “He brings creativity, energy and personality to everything he touches. We are thrilled to have him, and excited beyond words for what he brings to the next season of ‘Two and a Half Men.’ ”

Said “Men” Lorre: “We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton joining our family. Added to that is the deep sigh of relief knowing that our family stays together. If I was any happier, it’d be illegal.”

Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth said Kutcher “brings a new and distinctive comedic flavor” to the laffer and should blend seamlessly with the returning cast of Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones, Holland Taylor, Marin Hinkle and Conchata Ferrell. Roth also praised Lorre for his “creative skills and consummate professionalism.”

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