Well, that other shoe has dropped and dropped hard: Warner Brothers just announced that it has terminated Charlie Sheen’s contract.
They made no mention of the fate of the show, which may not be known at this point: the studio and CBS have a contract for another year, but they’ll obviously have to work out what happens to it, if they’re not having those meetings already. According to Michael Schneider of TV Guide, WB and CBS have yet to decide whether to replace Sheen or just dump the show. There is also no news yet on whether Sheen will sue the studio. Maybe he will, but on the other hand you can bet they can introduce some evidence that he was no longer able to do his job, and he may not want some of that stuff talked about in court if at all possible.
Update: Here’s Sheen’s statement, given to TMZ, which as it happens is a Warner-owned website, meaning he’s helping to enrich Warner Brothers through his attacks on Warner Brothers:
“This is very good news. They continue to be in breach, like so many whales. It is a big day of gladness at the Sober Valley Lodge because now I can take all of their bazillions, never have to look at whatshiscock again and I never have to put on those silly shirts for as long as this warlock exists in the terrestrial dimension.”
Yeah, his lawyers have no reason not to be confident about how he’ll do on the stand.
Update 2: Warner’s termination letter for Sheen gives a preview of the kind of information they’ll be using against him if the thing goes to court. I hope the lawyers had fun writing it; it’s like a collection of Charlie’s Greatest Hits, with several passages just devoted to quoting crazy things he’s been saying. That kind of letter is the only thing that can make me miss articling.
Update 3: Sheen’s lawyer floats plans to use Chuck Lorre’s history of falling out with his stars (Brett, Cybill, Roseanne) as evidence that it was his fault. I’d absolutely love that. It is pretty historic — and a sign of how the comedy drought of the ’00s turned Lorre from a middling good sitcom creator into a superstar — that Sheen is the first star of a Lorre show to get fired before Lorre did.
Someday, when the tell-all book about this show has been written (and I don’t mean Sheen’s book, if that ever materializes), we’ll have a better idea of what Sheen’s contract was like and why WB waited until now to fire him. From a financial standpoint, the studio took a big hit by shutting down the season and not simply filming some episodes without him, but like I said earlier, we don’t know whether they could have gotten away with firing him, or if he had some kind of contract like Jay Leno’s that made him indestructible. Now they seem confident that they can kick him to the curb — but I don’t know if that’s because something important has changed in the last week. It could be that last week the studio was still holding out hope that he might eventually come back, and this week they decided it had reached the point of no return.
If they don’t replace him, it’s a really sad sign that TV networks and studios have gotten really wimpy about re-tooling. Yes, Sheen is the show, but come on. Plenty of other shows have replaced or written out their stars. Sheen’s final episode even ended with him leaving the country; they don’t even have to kill him off. (The fact that it ended with him getting together with his crazed stalker Rose — an insane person who tricked him into loving her by pretending to be married to a mannequin — seems strangely appropriate. They’re still a better couple than most sitcom ‘shippings.) <em>8 Simple Rules</em> lasted almost two full seasons after it replaced John Ritter, and they had to recover from the sudden death of one of the most beloved of all sitcom stars. The not-so-sudden termination of a star nobody likes any more is surely something they can deal with. They should go across the Warner Brothers lot and ask former <em>8 Simple Rules </em>supporting player Kaley Cuoco for some tips.
Or ask Suzanne Somers and Valerie Harper if stars are irreplaceable. There are options here. If Jason Bateman could be so cavalier about his mother’s death, why would any of Charlie’s horrible family members care about him?
What else can we say about Charlie Sheen now that he is no longer a big-time TV star? I will say, in what is very close to literally being devil’s advocacy, that I can understand why he became big. He’s not a great actor, but he did have a certain basic charm which, blended with the air of sleaziness he always gives off, was just right for the character as written.
He also didn’t over-act. In recent episodes this makes him seem like a terrifying zombie (no wonder the creator of The Walking Dead is a fan) but in the early days of the show, he was kind of a welcome contrast to sitcom stars who mugged and yelled and just generally tried to over-sell every line. He’s not as <em>good</em> at this style of acting as, say, Michael J. Fox, the man he replaced on Spin City. But the presence of a laid-back lead was one of the things that probably set the show apart and enabled it to be a little different from the flood of cartoonishly over-acted sitcoms at the time.
This scene from the first season sort of sums up his performance, and the show. (Though I mostly picked it at random because Yvette Nicole Brown from Community is in it.) There’s very little that’s new about it, and in fact we all know what the end of the scene is going to be as soon as he walks in. But in terms of writing, it’s an efficient, well-structured scene that doesn’t depend on one-liners and punchlines, and in terms of acting, Sheen at least knows not to oversell everything, which most sitcom leads apparently don’t. It doesn’t add up to anything great, but the show took off because — ironically, given how it all ended — Sheen did a fairly professional job.