CBS sitcom ready to begin post-Charlie Sheen era

Ashton Kutcher is now a made man. Thesp has filled the vacancy in primetime’s biggest recasting drama in years as CBS laffer “Two and a Half Men” moves beyond the Charlie Sheen era.

Production on the ninth season of the Warner Bros. TV sitcom will begin in the summer, with plans to have the show ready for a fall re-launch.

“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. “I can’t replace Charlie Sheen, but I’m going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people!”

Reports emerged Thursday that Kutcher’s hiring was a done deal, but the pact wasn’t finalized until Friday morning, when both sides were comfortable with issuing an formal announcement. The news comes on the heels of reports that WB had unsuccessfully tried to woo Hugh Grant for the gig.

While reports Friday estimated Kutcher will make nearly $1 million per episode, sources familiar with the deal pegged the salary as significantly lower yet still a hefty six-figure sum.

The difference between compensation for Kutcher and Sheen is also expected to ease the financial burden of CBS, which is undoubtly paying a lower license fee for the show now that the salary of $1.25 million per episode that Sheen commanded is off the books. CBS was believed to have pay about $5 million-plus per seg for “Men” in recent seasons.

CBS and Warner Bros. have restructured their license agreement to accommodate the new hire, with the studio picking up Kutcher’s salary. As is customary with long-running series, the network is on the hook for all production costs.

Said “Men” co-creator and showrunner Chuck 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.”

Both network and studio are mum on the creative gameplan for the revamped “Men,” though what little is known is that Kutcher will playing a new character instead of assuming Sheen’s role as the good-timing jingle writer Charlie Harper.

Kutcher is taking on his first scripted series regular role since the program that launched his thesping career, Fox’s “That ’70s Show.” His film career blossomed during the 1998-2006 run of the sitcom, with his most recent bigscreen pic being the rom-com “No Strings Attached.” He’s branched out as a producer of numerous TV projects, scripted and unscripted, through his Katalyst production shingle.

Kutcher was also an early adopter of Twitter, where he is closing in on 7 million followers.

“Ashton is a pop culture triple threat — film star, cutting-edge producer and a social media pioneer,” CBS Entertainment prexy Nina 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.’ ”

Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth said that Kutcher “brings a new and distinctive comedic flavor” to the comedy and that he 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.” That was clearly an oblique reference to the attacks Lorre has endured from Sheen during the past few months.

Sheen’s public tirade against Lorre began on Feb. 24, prompting CBS and WB to cancel remaining 2010-11 production on the series hours later. Warner Bros. sent Sheen a formal termination notice March 7, followed by the actor responding with a $100 million lawsuit three days later. That legal dispute is to be resolved by an arbitrator unless Sheen’s attorneys can successfully get it moved to a jury trial.

Jon Weisman contributed reporting

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