Sheen situation likely means lost episodes of 'Two and a Half Men,' but does it have to?
There is a lot of discussion at CBS and Warner Bros. about how many episodes of "Two and a Half Men" might have to be scuttled while Charlie Sheen takes a break from work to deal with his personal issues.
CBS has one more new episode of the show in the can that will likely air next week. That will be the 16th new episode this season. The network's deal with Warner Bros., the studio that makes the hit sitcom, calls for 24 episodes per season.
No one at CBS or Warner Bros. is saying when Sheen will be ready to return to work, although the rumblings that periodically emerge from the star's camp have indicated that it will be sooner rather than later. If he's back at the end of the month, then as few as a couple of episodes might go unmade. That was the case last season too when the order was cut from 24 to 22 because Sheen's personal issues interfered with production. Obviously, if his absence lasts longer than a month, industry thinking dictates that the rest of the order is in jeopardy.
But one wonders why, if CBS was willing to pay for 24 episodes and Warner Bros. and executive producer Chuck Lorre were game to make them, would they not just produce them when Sheen is back? Presumably, Lorre and the show's writing team have already mapped out the main themes for the rest of the season or could continue writing if they are not already. Of course, that's kind of like trying to write a college paper without a hard deadline -- and we all know how that goes.
Even if Sheen's absence drags on to later this spring and CBS couldn't use all the episodes this season, it could have them on hand for next season. Having more original episodes of a hit show is not a bad thing, especially in March and April when it seems like rerun central on television.
It is presented as a fait accompli that because of the Sheen situation, the full order cannot be fulfilled. Reality is that once it becomes clear when Sheen can return to work, CBS and Warner Bros. will choose to decide whether to remain committed to that order. Another observation: If previous history is a guide, Sheen's issues tend to arise more often when he's not working than when he has a call time to meet.
For Warner Bros., the more episodes they get the better their rerun revenue down the road. CBS, however, already pays a lot of money for the show and privately probably wouldn't mind the savings that fewer originals would bring. The show does well in reruns, and conventional wisdom is that if you can get away with less, do it.
Admittedly, going ahead and finishing the 24-episode order would potentially cut into summer vacation for the writers and crew, but the show is shut down right now. This is not extra work; it's delayed work. Everyone keeps expressing concern about the lost wages for the folks who work on the show. This way, no wages are lost.
This, of course, goes against all industry logic, but fans of the show certainly wouldn't mind having a few more episodes to watch next season.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: "Two and a Half Men" stars Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen. Credit: Greg Gayne / Associated Press