We can only pray Charlie Sheen doesn’t start burning cigarettes into his palms. Or gouging himself with a fork. Because he doubtless would invite a camera crew along. And, at the rate they’re going, a platoon of television producers would rush to bring us every bloody, self-mutilating moment.
Major news outlets, led by ABC and NBC, have been relentless in recent days in aiding and abetting the epic meltdown of a celebrity who happens to be the biggest star on the biggest comedy hit at rival CBS. Given the amount of air time they have gifted him, it’s as if the producers on the other networks have fallen under Sheen’s spell. Are they all that different from the live-in young “goddesses,” whom the actor keeps around his Beverly Hills home to “care” for his twin sons and assure him that everything he does is right?
Rather than give one airing about Sheen’s dysfunction and the early termination of the taping of his hit show, “Two and a Half Men,” the leaders behind ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” rolled out their segments, piece by piece, like so much rancid candy. A sort of nauseating culmination had been scheduled to air Tuesday night — an “extraordinary” “20/20" special from ABC called “Charlie Sheen in His Own Words.”
Introducing a second day of the story Tuesday morning on “Today,” reporter Jeff Rossen said Sheen had called back not long after his initial rant and declared “I’ve got more to say.” Said Rossen: “Obviously, we went.”
Obviously? More obviously, no one is exercising any discretion, at least the kind that weighs things like taste, proportion and decency instead of ratings points. ( CNN’s Piers Morgan last-second booking of Sheen netted him his second-highest ratings since his show debuted six weeks ago.)
Well before he became a TV star and helped make “Two and a Half Men” television’s most-watched comedy, Sheen had earned a reputation for recklessness. He allegedly threatened his second wife with a knife and landed a couple of times in rehab, most recently after a January trip to the emergency room.
In mid-February Sheen went on Dan Patrick’s radio show to call out his bosses. He was ready to work, but they weren’t, he said. Then, last Thursday, he returned to radio on “The Alex Jones Show” and called his hit show’s executive producer, Chuck Lorre, “a clown” and referred to him as “Haim Levine” — what some interpreted as an anti-Semitic play on Lorre’s birth name.
No sooner had word come that CBS and Warner Bros. would cancel the end of the “Two and a Half Men” season than Sheen — vacationing in the Bahamas — was back on the phone to KLAC radio in L.A. He called his bosses “knuckleheads” and “AA Nazis.” The latter refers to Sheen’s disdain for Alcoholics Anonymous, which he has contended is a sham, offering not a shadow of the curative power of his own “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA.”
By the time Sheen returned to Los Angeles, bookers from across the television spectrum were in hot pursuit of their own Moment of Sublime Incoherence. And Sheen did not disappoint, jumping from “Good Morning America” to “Today” to the E! network, “Piers Morgan Tonight” and celebrity gossip site TMZ.
An NBC exec crowed about the network’s big “get” — snaking an interview that blew ABC’s fond hope for an exclusive. But a better question might have been, who didn’t get a piece of the Sheen debacle?
The 45-year-old son of actor Martin Sheen seemed to be unraveling as fast as he could talk. Sweating and gesticulating in some of the appearances, he compared himself to a warlock. He boasted about once surviving after “banging seven-gram rocks” of cocaine. He said he had been humble far too long and would no longer conceal his greatness. He said his young children would be fine learning about his behavior one day, because their dad was a “rock star” who was all about “winning.”
NBC’s Rossen ventured that Sheen’s behavior constituted “a dangerous spiral,” but the reporter still provided ample platform for Sheen to belittle his bosses, take on AA and slight fans who might worry about him. Sheen depicted them as simple little beings, incapable of comprehending his Awesomeness.
Like Rossen, his ABC counterpart, Andrea Canning, used her visit to the Sheen home to let him prattle on about what a great little family he had formed with his two toddler sons and a porn star and model, his latest concubines.
Perhaps the network reporters might have asked the young ladies, both 24, if they looked forward to being threatened with a knife — like soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke Mueller. But such talk would be inhospitable when visiting a real star’s home.
(This column was filed prior to airing of the “20/20" special and ABC representatives did not provide an advance copy.)
The decision had been made to wallow in Sheen’s electric Kool-Aid meltdown fest. There was no turning back, no way to provoke the star into anything like a sensible conversation. The reporters’ mere presence granted Sheen license and plenty of air time to fulminate and preen.
ABC’s news bosses might have listened more closely Tuesday to one of the experts they put on “Good Morning America.” Kristina Wandzilak, a one-time addict and intervention specialist based in the Bay Area, said the positive drug test Sheen passed for the cameras this week meant nothing. (Just another stunt, run by the website Radar Online, that “Good Morning America” all too willingly aired.)
“This is more than a sensational story,” Wandzilak told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “This is a tragedy that is unfolding on a national stage.” She added: “If this were a client in my office, somebody who had been testing clean but still had this pressured speech and this grandiose thinking and slightly psychotic I would be calling for psychiatric care.”
When I reached Wandzilak later at her Bay Area office, she said it can be a particular challenge to get rich and powerful clients to break away from their addictions. “It’s a dangerous combination to have an unwell individual and to hand them a media platform,” she said. “It feeds the delusion of power and uniqueness.”
I asked if ABC and all the others were, in some measure, fueling Sheen’s descent. “They are certainly allowing a platform that feeds his delusion,” she said, “that is for sure.”
Not that anyone in the news business has been thinking of that in the last few days. A get is a get is a get.