CBS is down to one and a half men.
Charlie Sheen, star of the network’s hit show “Two and a Half Men,” was thrown off the show Monday afternoon by Warner Bros., the studio that produces the situation comedy.
The move to fire Sheen follows several weeks of highly public and vituperative battling by the actor against CBS, Warner Bros. and “Two and a Half Men” co-creator Chuck Lorre.
In a letter to Sheen’s lawyer outlining its reasons for his dismissal, Warner Bros. charged that the actor’s “erratic behavior” undermined production and said his tabloid lifestyle — which has included brushes with the law, accusations of violence toward women including two of his former wives, and hospital trips — has put him in breach of his contract.
Sheen’s “self-destructive conduct resulted in his hospitalization, his inability to work at all for a period and the rapid erosion of the cooperative and creative process necessary to produce the show,” lawyers representing the studio said in its letter to Sheen’s lawyer, Martin Singer. The letter goes on to say that Sheen’s admitted drug use and “furnishing of cocaine” to others puts him in violation of his contract.
“There is ample evidence supporting Warner Bros. reasonable good faith opinion that Mr. Sheen has committed felony offenses involving moral turpitude ... that have interfered with his ability to fully and completely render all material services required” under his contract, noted the letter.
Sheen’s lawyer said Warner Bros.’ position is “specious and without merit.” He expects to file a suit against the studio later this week. “We believe we will ultimately prevail.”
“Two and a Half Men” has been in limbo since January when CBS and Warner Bros. put the show on hiatus while Sheen took a forced leave to attend a rehabilitation facility. When Sheen opted to undergo rehab treatment at home instead of at a facility, CBS, Warner Bros. and Lorre began to question if he was taking the process seriously, according to the letter. Tensions then flared once the actor took to radio and TV interviews proclaiming he was ready to return to work, a view the network and studio did not share.
After Sheen disparaged Lorre, Warner Bros. and CBS in numerous interviews, the plug was pulled on the show for the remainder of the season. Sheen then hired pit bull attorney Singer, who threatened to sue Warner Bros. if the studio didn’t pay out his full contract, which runs through next season.
A few days later, Warner Bros. retained its own legal big gun — the firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson — which was seen as a signal that Sheen was headed for a legal showdown.
Neither CBS nor Warner Bros. would say if they would attempt to keep “Two and a Half Men” on the air without Sheen. The part Sheen plays — his character, Charlie, is a wealthy jingle writer who blows his money on girls and booze — could be recast. But without its longtime star, the sitcom may not stay on the top of the Nielsen ratings chart.
“I think it would be difficult to replace Charlie Sheen. People associate him so closely with the show, and with that character,” said Jason Maltby, a media buyer with Mindshare, whose clients include American Express, Ford and IBM.
It is not impossible to replace the star of a show. Sheen himself once successfully replaced Michael J. Fox on the ABC hit “Spin City” when Fox had to leave the show because of his battle against Parkinson’s disease.
For CBS and Warner Bros., the loss of the show would be a big financial blow. “Two and a Half Men” anchors the network’s Monday night schedule and advertisers pay more than $200,000 per commercial to be on the show.
Warner Bros. also has a lot at stake in keeping the show on the air. Reruns of the show generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the studio, and lost episodes mean lost revenue.
For years, Sheen’s personal life seemed to have no effect on his ability to get work. Trips to rehab, messy divorces and even testifying about his penchant for prostitutes during the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss didn’t stop the actor from raking in millions. His current deal for “Two and a Half Men” pays him about $2 million an episode when revenue from reruns is included.
Warner Bros., CBS and Lorre seem to be admitting that they were willing to overlook Sheen’s various issues with the law and substance abuse to keep the show going.
“While it was not anywhere close to an ideal working situation, Warner Bros. and CBS as well as Mr. Lorre continued to make accommodations for the off-camera (yet very public) aspects of Mr. Sheen’s life,” the letter said, adding “at each step, Warner Bros. CBS and Mr. Lorre expressed their wholehearted support for Mr. Sheen and concern for his health and well-being.”
That acknowledgement may give further fuel to critics who contend that Sheen’s bosses were willing to look the other way when he got into legal scrapes and was accused of violence toward women, but only got tough when he started trashing them.
Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.