In a year where we witnessed the NBC-Tonight Show debacle, I can't believe I'm saying this, but the recent news of Charlie Sheen announcing he is ready to leave Two and a Half Men is shaping up to be one of the most bizarre/fascinating TV related stories I've ever followed.
I've resisted the urge to speculate on the matter for 12 full days now, but just can't wait any longer.
First the facts:
- Everyone thought it was an April Fool's joke (including me) when the story broke from People.com that Sheen was ready to leave the show after this, its seventh season. According to People, "Charlie’s just done," says a set source. "And he’s quietly telling his friends he’s not coming back." The story went on to say that Sheen had very recently turned down an offer from CBS for the eighth season because “He wants to move on,” says a friend of the actor. “Leaving is 100 percent his idea.”
- Men remains one of the highest rated comedies on television, so losing one of the main stars would be a major blow to the series and potentially to CBS and its powerful Monday night programming block (Men has anchored the night from the 9 p.m. EST slot for most of its run). History suggests that a show is doomed when a lead character exits and, ironically enough, one of the best examples is when Sheen himself tried to replace Michael J. Fox on Spin City.
- Everyone (including me) instantly took Sheen's statement as a negotiations ploy since his contract was up at the end of this season. Apparently he has been making somewhere in the ballpark of $800,000+ an episode but reportedly asked for $1.5 million per ep sometime last year (Sheen's people have since said these numbers and demands are false).
- What makes the story all the more interesting is that just last year, CBS picked up the series to run through the 2011-12 season, so in my mind, this still feels like the perfection negotiation tactic. Your contract is up, you know the show can't carry on without you but needs to fulfill its contractual obligations, you say you're leaving and the network suddenly has to throw money at you. Makes sense to me. But Sheen and his representatives have repeatedly disputed this point. “Both parties have known the score for over a year,” Sheen said in a recent statement. “In no way, has this been a hasty or negligent eleventh hour surprise." “A negotiation ploy is something you do to get the best possible deal," Sheen's publicist Stan Rosenfield added. "Charlie told them what he wanted a year ago.”
- Men filmed its season finale this past Friday and according to sources close to the situation, it was "business as usual." Reportedly, Sheen didn't address the studio audience on the subject or make any teary good-bye speeches to the cast and crew (who were supposedly stunned by his recent "decision" to leave the show).
So... where do we go from here?
As much as I would love to believe that Sheen has actually grown a conscience and this could actually be the end of my least favorite show on television, I'm not going buy into any of the posturing until an actual decision is made and Sheen is no longer on the show.
While there may actually be some truth to his desire to move on with his career (to what?), I just can't see him - or anyone for that matter - walking away from the boatload of money I have to believe that CBS is going to throw at him in a few weeks.
Why just a few weeks?
Because the network upfronts are in May. And for those not familiar with the term, the upfronts are the dog and pony show where the networks announce their fall schedules to potential advertisers (it's worth noting Men has been commanding over $220,000 for a 30 second commercial spot. Not bad at all for a half hour sitcom and you can't see CBS wanting to lose that kind of cash).
One rumor that has been floating around that makes the most sense (if he is truly sincere about leaving the show) is to only have Sheen appear in a handful episodes. That way he could get paid more per episode like he wants, the show would be theoretically be able to continue and fulfill its contract, and CBS wouldn't be paying him much more over the course of the season due to his limited appearances.
In the words of Michael Scott, that feels like a win-win-win.
If I was a betting man, however, I would put my money on CBS buckling, giving him the close to the $1.5 mil per ep and him returning for at least one more full season.
I will leave you with one last thought: If CBS thinks it through, they don't necessarily HAVE to buckle in this case. As I've been combing over their potential pilot orders, they actually have some decent sounding comedies in the works that could step right in and help stabilize the CBS Monday night lineup.
Off of the top of my head, they could keep "How I Met Your Mother" at 8 p.m. EST, slide in "Livin' on a Prayer" (from "HIMYM" scribes) at 8:30, move the widely successful "Big Bang Theory" up to 9 p.m., and lead out with William Shatner's new "family" comedy, "Stuff My Dad Says" at 9:30 p.m.
While I can't see them kicking "Men" of the night entirely (regardless if Sheen leaves or returns in limited duty), my point is that if this was NBC, they would have to give in to actor because they don't have any thing in the works to replace a hit.
But CBS does.
They already have more than seven potential comedy pilots being developed for next year. It remains to see how many - if any - actually get promoted to the schedule, but that's a huge number for one network regardless.
My humble advice to the Eye would be to call Sheen's bluff, proceed as if he (and possibly the show) aren't going to be around and wait him out until you are actually walking out on the stage to present your fall lineup to the advertisers.
Maybe he comes running in and takes whatever you're offering, maybe he really is choosing to move on with his life and career. Either way, CBS needs to realize it holds all the cards and they shouldn't give in to yet another potential greedy actor.
Which means they probably will.