This is probably just a case of me extrapolating my own reactions to the world at large, but does it seem like the Charlie Sheen story has fizzled out already? TMZ seems to be reaching for stories sometimes, including this completely irrelevant (but hilariously URL’d) story. They do have stories about him and his kids and exes, but a lot of that is just conventional run-of-the-mill celebrity custody stuff. The Sheen media blitz is over, the network is in lockdown and not showing its hand on what it plans to do, and the whole “Winning” catchphrase seems to have come and gone in about two days.
If the story has burned out, it sort of makes sense. Sheen may think he’s famous and beloved because people love him, specifically. That’s what he means when he says he’s “Winning.” But of course he was only “Winning” because he had a huge hit TV show, and though the person he plays on TV is very close to his real life persona, the fact remains that millions of people loved that fictional guy on TV, not the real guy. Now that he’s (at least temporarily) without a show, he may be more interesting to the people who didn’t watch his show, but he may also become less interesting to the millions who love his show.
It would be an interesting and appropriate ending to the story if the realization dawns on him, slowly, that there is a difference between fiction and reality and that the popularity of Two and a Half Men can’t just be carried over into the real world — and that without his show, he’s diminished. The impression I got was that he felt free to risk blowing up the show because he thought he didn’t need it; but of course he does need it as much as it needs him. And the story of the guy who thinks he’s bigger than his show is an old, old one. I wonder if he’ll start to try and grovel a bit to get his show back, if only as it starts to dawn on him that Charlie Harper is more popular than Charlie Sheen, and that “Winning” depends on having a hit show.
It would be quite something if he tried to get back on the show and they decided to go on without him, which is the scenario I’d most like to see for a number of reasons. All of that probably won’t be decided until the fall schedules are announced in May, though. But speaking of replacements, here’s a flashback to the moment that made Sheen a TV star in the first place (rather than a washed-up movie star), his replacement of Michael J. Fox on Spin City. The show did well enough with him to last two seasons instead of the one that the network was originally expecting. This despite the fact that the show had lost not only Fox, but creator/showrunner Bill Lawrence and several key actors, including Alexander Chaplin and Connie Britton, who didn’t come along when the show relocated from New York to Los Angeles.
This is why I think the network could find a reasonably well-known actor to take over for Sheen if they really wanted to. The risks for an actor are high, since he’ll be blamed if the show tanks without Sheen; but if the show continues to do well, it could springboard him to his own star vehicle, exactly the way Spin City got Sheen his own show.
Finally, for another Sheen perspective (Sheen-spective?) see this post by Justin Fowler, who talks about the effect the Sheen implosion might have on the popularity of the show. Because it consists entirely of horribly people doing bad things, its popularity depends on the audience understanding it as an escapist fantasy. If people start to think that Sheen is not in fact having fun, that might carry over to the way they view the show and encourage a reading of it as a dark, depressing, despairing kind of thing.
If you think about it, Sheen has been pretty careful not to deliberately hurt his show’s overall brand, no matter how crazy he acts. He always insists that he is living a happy, consequence-free life and that the rest of us are jealous of him. That is an exact description of the appeal of Charlie Harper: he is the closest thing to a happy person on his show because he ignores the pointless moral rules that hold back lesser mortals like his brother. I don’t think Sheen has confused himself with his character; I think he and his character both try to exemplfy the idea that amoral people have more fun. The problem for Sheen is that people may no longer believe that he’s having fun. For years, that was the thing we knew about him — that he was a horrible person but enjoyed it. Now that he has no show, we may not be as willing to agree that he has a great life. And that could eventually filter into the way people look at his show: it’s a lot easier to envy Charlie Sheen the TV star than Charlie Sheen the former TV star.