CBS, Warner Bros. to decide show's fate

If “Two and a Half Men” is on the CBS schedule come fall, it likely won’t be with Charlie Sheen.

That was the consensus of a handful of television pros when asked whether TV’s most-watched sitcom could return intact for the 2011-12 season following Sheen’s latest rants against exec producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn and CBS chieftain Leslie Moonves.

That he won’t be back was also the opinion of Sheen himself if Lorre remains on board. On Friday afternoon from the Bahamas, where he is vacationing, Sheen told Fox Sports Radio hosts Pat O’Brien and Steve Hartman: “If they want to roll back to season nine, I gave them my word I would do that, but not with the turds that are currently in place. That’s impossible. Can you imagine going back into the sludge pit with those knuckleheads at this point? Can you imagine? It would go bad quickly.”

The question now remains whether Warner Bros. and CBS will decide if the show should go forward at all. With 177 episodes in the can, “Two and a Half Men” has been a cash cow for the studio, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in syndication, and it remains primetime’s most-watched sitcom.

In its eighth season, the show has averaged 14.5 million viewers per episode and a 4.6 rating/11 share in the 18-49 demo, second behind ABC’s “Modern Family” (4.9/13).

Following two days of public vitriol from Sheen, the rift between the actor and Lorre would seem irrevocable. Sheen followed up Thursday’s remarks in which he referred to Lorre as Chaim Levine (Lorre’s given name is Charles Levine) with words Friday calling Lorre, along with Aronsohn, “AA Nazis” and “blatant hypocrites.”

Sheen said: “These guys, they do not practice what they preach. It’s so transparent, it’s so sad.”

Thursday’s comments rankled some Jewish leaders, who took them as possibly anti-Semitic. “By invoking television producer Chuck Lorre’s Jewishname in the context of an angry tirade against him, Charlie Sheen left the impression that another reason for his dislike of Mr. Lorre is his Jewishness,” said Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. “This fact has no relevance to Mr. Sheen’s complaint or disagreement, and his words are at best bizarre, and at worst, borderline anti-Semitism.”

There’s little reason to believe Lorre would step away from “Two and a Half Men.” Lorre has often stated he’s proud of staying with the show since its inception, though Lorre certainly isn’t lacking for things to do: He’s also a hands-on exec producer of “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike and Molly,” both of which air on CBS.

Sheen may have ended any possibility that he could return to “Two and a Half Men” next season — the show was officially shut down for the remainder of this season Thursday by Warner Bros. and CBS — when he took a swipe at Moonves, a network topper not known for kowtowing to actors.

CBS could bring the show back without Sheen, but such a move comes with its own peril. While some series have successfully replaced its lead — think, ironically, Sheen taking over for Michael J. Fox on “Spin City” — such a change has, on other occasions, marked the beginning of the end of a show’s run. (Next season will already see NBC’s “The Office” press on without star Steve Carell.)

If CBS decides to go this route, it could save the network money. CBS would undoubtedly ask Warner Bros. for a lower license fee because Sheen was the show’s top star and would argue that the value of the show has been decreased.

Though Sheen said he has little or no desire to return with Lorre at the helm, the actor is contracted through next season, and if Warner Bros. fires him, a huge legal battle would likely erupt over his contract that pays him $1.2 million an episode through the show’s ninth season.

CBS, meanwhile, will be faced with a big hole on its powerhouse Monday comedy block if “Two and a Half Men” ends. When the show went into hiatus about a month ago, the Eye was quick to point out the laffer does well in sitcoms — better than most shows do in originals.

However, viewers may turn away in the next few weeks and months knowing there aren’t more originals in the can. As for fall, CBS could move “The Big Bang Theory” back to Monday night after shifting it to Thursday in September, or it could shift Lorre’s “Mike and Molly” to 9 o’clock and employ a new comedy in the 9:30 slot.

Advertisers will be appreciative if a firm decision either way is made by the May upfronts, but CBS and Warner Bros. will certainly have to decipher all the legal ramifications before announcing whether the show is returning and if Sheen is to be included.

Also to be considered are the syndie deals Warner Bros. has made with station groups around the country. If CBS cancels the show, Warner will lose syndication revenue that it would have booked by delivering new episodes to stations.

(Jon Weisman and Sam Thielman contributed to this report.)

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