Charlie Sheen's future on 'Two and a Half Men' comes down to leverage
Leverage is a hot commodity in any negotiation. If you are the star of a big TV show and your deal is up but the contract for the show itself isn't, you have leverage.
However, if you are the star of a big TV show whose contract is up but whose personal life is in some disarray and you have an expensive lifestyle and likely face some pretty big legal bills, perhaps you don't have as much leverage as you think.
Charlie Sheen may be about to find out just how much leverage he has. The star's contract for the CBS hit "Two and a Half Men" is up at the end of this season. Warner Bros., which makes the show for CBS, has a deal with the network for two more seasons. It makes a ton of money off the show in rerun sales but would no doubt like to make more. Two more seasons of the comedy would be a nice bit of gravy. Although some joke that if Sheen leaves the show, it can be renamed "Two Men," he is the star and the reason why the bulk of people tune in each week.
In a normal situation, this one is a no-brainer. Sheen would hold all the cards. But this isn't a normal situation. Warner Bros. and CBS already shortened the number of episodes for this season from 24 to 22 because of Sheen's recent legal issues regarding a Christmas fight with his wife. Losing two episodes may not sound like a lot, but it translates into millions of dollars for both the network and the studio.
In other words, both the network and studio have been pretty good to Sheen.
Sheen is probably going to have some huge expenses as a result of the incident with his wife. There is even the possibility of jail time. He has surely already spent a lot of money. including on his precautionary return to rehab. Maybe now is not the time for a guy, who already makes close to $1 million an episode, to risk gainful employment. Yes, he has a ton of money, but many Hollywood stars tend to burn through their cash pretty quickly.
So far, Sheen's personal problems have not hurt the show's ratings. Whether that remains the case after his legal situation is resolved and his fate determined is another issue. CBS is doing well, but losing the show or Sheen's services from the show would be huge. As already noted, Warner Bros. would also hate to see the show end now because there is still some rerun money to be made.
If Sheen can't reach a new deal with Warner Bros. the question becomes whether CBS is obligated to buy two more seasons of "Two and a Half Men." Typically networks have some sort of protection against a star leaving a show, and one would think CBS does in this case. (If they don't, someone in legal will be looking for work).
CBS and Warner Bros. could try to carry on without Sheen and, who knows, maybe it would work. After all, Sheen jumped in and kept ABC's "Spin City" going when Michael J. Fox had to leave because of his struggle with Parkinson's disease. If the show does go on though, CBS will probably be paying a lot less for it.
None of this is to pass judgment on Sheen, how he lives his life and the choices he has made. There are no doubt many who feel Sheen's bad-boy tendencies should have cost him his job already. The justice system will have its say on that soon enough. Nor is this about whether CBS or Warner Bros. should keep doing business with Sheen. They've made their choice. This is, to borrow from Michael Corleone, strictly business.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Charlie Sheen on "Two and a Half Men." Credit: Greg Gayne / Associated Press