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No easy math in determining financial hit from 'Two and a Half Men' shutting down

February 25, 2011 |  5:07 pm

TWOHALFMEN

While Charlie Sheen figures out who he'll rant to next, the network and the studio behind "Two and a Half Men," the hit sitcom he stars in, are no doubt crunching numbers to determine what financial hit they will take if the show is indeed over.

Warner Bros., which produces the show, has the most to lose if "Two and a Half Men" is over. Currently, CBS pays about $4 million per episode for the show. Warner Bros. uses that money to make the show, pay the cast, etc.

But there is always money left over to keep in its pocket. Given that eight episodes won't be made this season, that translates to $32 million in lost license fees, several million of which would have been pure profit. People close to the show say Warner Bros. would lose about $10 million in profits from the four episodes alone

Contractually, CBS is on the hook for one more season after this one, so if Sheen's character has indeed drank his whiskey and bedded his last broad, then that is an additional $96 million or so in license fees gone -- assuming that 24 episodes would be made next season.

Then there is the rerun money. The cable channel FX pays about $800,000 per episode. That's $3.2 million right there that's gone for the episodes that won't be made this season. If the show is gone for good, then that number jumps to more than $22 million after factoring in the 24 episodes that would have been made next season.

The local stations that carry repeats of "Two and a Half Men" collectively pay more than $1 million per episode and Warner Bros. also sells a portion of the ad time in those reruns. So if the show goes away, that is at least an additional $30 million or so gone.

What is virtually impossible to put a number on is the long-term loss to Warner Bros. Like "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Cheers," "Two and a Half Men" is going to live in reruns for a very long time. Over the next decade or so the revenue from lost episodes could easily be in the hundreds of millions from reruns both in the U.S. and abroad.

Now, all that rerun money does not go straight to Warner Bros. bottom line. The cast gets residuals, and profit participants also reap the benefits. But it's not chump change either. Warner Bros. has already made tons of money off the show and the loss of additional episodes means less gravy and dessert. 

For CBS, it is easier to figure out a financial hit but harder to determine the potential damage the loss of the show would mean. Advertising Age reported that a commercial on the "Two and a Half Men" goes for about $200,000. If there is a ratings hit from the absence of the program, then ad revenue would drop as well. However, given that CBS is also off the hook this season from paying for those eight episodes that won't be made, in the near term the network is actually saving money.

But if "Two and a Half Men" is toast, CBS has a major hole to fill in its schedule. The program, which airs at 9 p.m. Monday, is the anchor for that night. CBS's next strongest show is "The Big Bang Theory," which was moved from Monday at 9:30 p.m. to Thursday. Now the network may have to abandon its Thursday strategy to fill the void left by Sheen.

In a statement, CBS said the Sheen fiasco will "will have no material impact ... and at the network level, given the economics of a show like this in its eighth season, any ratings declines will be more than offset by the reduced programming costs for the time period.” Warner Bros. has not released an official statement about the financial impact of the show ending its season early.

As for the 200 or so people who work on the show who aren't high-paid writers or actors, they are the ones truly caught in the crossfire between Sheen, CBS and Warner Bros.

Ironically, Sheen's production company is called 9th Step Productions, referring to the step in Alcoholics Anonymous that has to do with making amends to those harmed by one's actions. That could be a long list.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Two and a Half Men." Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu/Los Angeles Times

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