The biggest threat to a Charlie Sheen comeback may be the show that fired him. Sheen was dismissed from Two and a Half Men in March after insulting its creator, Chuck Lorre, in a radio interview. Immediately after, he began claiming that the show’s success was entirely due to him. When Ashton Kutcher was chosen to replace him, Sheen said that the show’s ratings would plummet—and advised Kutcher to “enjoy Planet Chuck. There is no air, laughter, loyalty or love there.” But it turns out that the show can survive without him; despite overwhelmingly negative reviews and a big ratings drop from its season premiere, the Kutcher-ized version of the show is still getting higher ratings than it did last year with Sheen. For Sheen, it’s a total buzz kill.
When he was fired, Sheen won new fans with his swaggering, incoherent style and catchphrases like “winning” and “tiger blood.” For the past eight years, he’d seemingly gotten away with numerous allegations of abusive and addictive behaviour: when asked about Sheen’s moral turpitude, CBS executive Nina Tassler merely said that “on a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit. That’s all I have to say.” Not long after the firing, Radar Online reported that CBS was even trying to get Sheen back on the show and sweep all the rehab and abuse allegations under the rug again.
Once Kutcher was signed up, though, Sheen no longer seemed invincible, and that diminished his stature almost instantly. Before Kutcher, media outlets couldn’t stop writing about Sheen, even if it was only to point out that audiences were booing and walking out of his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” series of live shows. After Two and a Half Men replaced him, Sheen just became that guy who used to be on television, and Kutcher became the bigger story.
By the time the series was ready to start up again without him, Sheen was reduced to settling his lawsuit against the studio and making a grovelling speech to his ex-colleagues at the Emmy Awards: “From the bottom of my heart, I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season. We spent eight wonderful years together, and I know you will continue to make great television.” Even gossip sites like TMZ.com don’t feature Sheen as often as they once did. Like Oprah Winfrey and other stars, he’s discovering that fame tends to evaporate as soon as you no longer have a hit show.
It could be that Sheen gambled and lost—the studio had always protected him when he acted up, and Lorre had been fired from three other shows (including Roseanne) when the stars turned against him. He didn’t notice that the ground had shifted. With Two and a Half Men becoming older, more expensive and less profitable, the chance to get rid of Sheen and his huge salary (not to mention the expense of dealing with his breakdowns) must have seemed appealing to the studio. And Lorre, whose The Big Bang Theory is a ratings and Emmy winner (not to mention the most-watched show in Canada), had become so powerful that the network was not about to cross the producer.
In an entertainment world where new, cheap stars are created in reality TV every week, and where many of the big hit movies and shows don’t have any big-name celebs in them, it’s harder for a guy like Sheen to get by with old-fashioned diva behaviour.
Now Sheen is treading the familiar path of a washed-up star: do a cable show, for less money. His new vehicle, Anger Management (based on the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson movie), will air on the cable channel FX, which coincidentally makes a lot of its profits from reruns of Sheen-era Two and a Half Men. On cable, Sheen will have to adjust to a lot fewer viewers than the 15 million who watched Two and a Half Men every week, and a much harder work schedule. If the show is picked up for a full run, he’ll have to make 100 episodes in less than three years. Quite a blow for Sheen: he got into trouble by partying when he should have been working, and now he’s actually going to have to work three times as hard.