Suspension of his hit sitcom has done anything but keep Charlie Sheen off the air or diffuse his tempest with CBS and Warner Bros.
The threat of protracted litigation between Sheen and the producers of “Two and a Half Men” gained steam as the actor’s media blitz reached near nonstop levels, with taped interviews airing on two network morning programs Monday, followed by an hourlong live webcast on TMZ.com from his Southern California backyard and yet another syndicated radio spot.
Neither CBS nor Warner Bros. has had any comment on Sheen since Thursday, when they pulled the plug on production of “Men” for the remainder of the current season. However, in regard to Sheen’s threat to sue because of the $1.2 million per episode salary that is being withheld from him, Warner Bros. did confirm that the studio has received “legal correspondence” from Sheen’s camp.
In a 5-page letter published by RadarOnline.com, Sheen litigator Marty Singer demanded producers pay Sheen’s salary for the remaining eight episodes from this season that were scrapped after production was shuttered Jan. 28, and included language that takes the issue further: “We trust that you intend to pay our client for 24 episodes for next season’s production of the series and ask that you confirm your intentions now.”
Meanwhile, Sheen’s camp no longer includes his longtime publicist Stan Rosenfield, who said Monday he has resigned as Sheen’s spokesman. The departure had been expected as it became clear Sheen had ceased following the advice of any kind of media handler.
“I have worked with Charlie Sheen for a long time, and I care about him very much,” Rosenfield said in a statement. “However, at this time, I’m unable to work effectively as his publicist and have respectfully resigned.”
Though the Sheen saga has become unmistakable tabloid fodder, spiced by speculation about the actor’s mental health, questions of drug use and the appearance of Sheen’s “goddesses” — the female companions that have accompanied him through his recent journeys — the bottom-line financial stakes remain massive, with hundreds of millions of dollars (at least) resting on the fate of the show.
Few believe there’s a chance of Sheen working again under CBS topper Leslie Moonves or for exec producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn — all of whom Sheen publicly took to task last week — unless somebody falls on his sword.
That would make a resolution of the contractual issues at play the most likely outcome, but such a denouement could be far off if one or more parties is not inclined to settle.
“Rarely are these issues black and white, particularly after lawyers have a go at them,” said one legal expert, adding that when it comes to mutual interpretation of a disputed contract, “I would say it’s generally as clear as mud.”
While it’s likely that Sheen’s deal has a “pay or play” element, there is probably some clause or clauses that add up to a breaking point, one that CBS and Warner Bros. felt had been reached by Thursday’s suspension of the series. But the legal haggling over whether Sheen crossed that breaking point might just be beginning– and could include past behavior on Sheen’s part that has previously caused the show to suspend production.
“On the one hand,” said USC law professor Jack Lerner, “I wouldn’t be surprised, because with this type of behavior — which involved talking to the press and presumably not any activity on set — there’s an issue of interpretation and discretion that Sheen’s lawyers are going to want to put before a jury.
“On the other hand, there is so much at stake for Warners and CBS in making this decision, because of what show is worth in syndication and so on … I can’t imagine that this decision was taken lightly.”
For his part, Sheen said in his interview with NBC News (which aired Monday morning on “Today”) that he was ready to come back to work, but that his rate would now be considerably higher.
“At this point, because of psychological distress … it’s $3 mil an episode,” Sheen said. “Take it or leave it.”
Sheen did change his mind about attempting to report to Warner Bros. on Monday, as he had suggested he would do in radio interviews late last week. Warner Bros. security was believed to have been prepared to bar him from entering the studio lot.
Though he has mostly repeated the same arguments over the course of the many Web, radio and TV appearances, Sheen offered little sign that he planned to dial back his offensive soon.
“I think my passion is misinterpreted as anger sometimes,” Sheen said, “and I don’t think people are ready for the message I’m delivering, and delivering with a sense of violent love.”
On ABC, Sheen allowed that he was sorry if he offended Lorre by using a Jewish version of his name in his heated criticism of the “Men” showrunner on a syndicated radio show Thursday — the interview that precipitated the sitcom getting unplugged — but didn’t think he had done anything wrong relative to Lorre’s treatment of him over the past eight years.
Sheen continued to proclaim his sobriety, saying that he was in complete control of his life, while railing against Alcoholics Anonymous in a fashion that most generously might be considered colorful.
“It was written for normal people,” Sheen said of AA. “People that are not special, people who do not have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”
Warners confirmed a TMZ report that it would pay more than 100 members of the “Men” crew for four weeks of work lost in the series’ latest suspension hiatus. Lorre is believed to have spearheaded the move.