Fight between Charlie Sheen, Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre sheds light on areas Hollywood prefers to keep dark
The legal battle between Charlie Sheen and the makers of the hit television show “Two and a Half Men” has the potential to display the type of dirt that Hollywood prefers to keep swept under the rug.
Already, the skirmishing between Sheen and Warner Bros., which produces the comedy for CBS, has generated enough dirt to keep TMZ and the National Enquirer busy for weeks. Should the battle rage on, it might be Bloomberg and Forbes that become obsessed with the story as financial secrets behind one of the country’s most successful programs spill out.
“There is a lot that Charlie Sheen may believe is private and personal and all that would come out, as would the secret sauce of how Warner Bros. does its deals for one of the biggest hits on television,” said Jonathan E. Stern, a professor at USC's Gould School of Law.
After putting the show on hiatus while Sheen sought treatment for substance issues, Warner Bros. fired him earlier this week after enduring several weeks of attacks from him on both radio and television. Sheen also took aim at Chuck Lorre, the co-creator and executive producer of "Two and a Half Men" who often needled his star with snarky notes in the so-called vanity cards that run at the end of each episode of the show.
Warner Bros. is arguing that Sheen's hard living has taken a toll on the his ability to work. In the letter to Sheen's lawyer Martin Singer firing the actor, Warner Bros. said the actor was no longer able to perform at an acceptable level and that his"erratic behavior" and "declining condition" undermined the production of the show. The studio went on to say Sheen had "difficulty remembering his lines and hitting his marks" and that his behavior "created substantial tensions on the set."
Sheen's team fired back in a $100-million lawsuit filed Thursday in California Superior Court that he "performed his acting services flawlessly on episodes filmed" before he was terminated. The real problem, the suit said, is Lorre.
Lorre is described in Sheen's suit as an "800-pound gorilla" who has been "humiliating, harassing, and disparaging" Sheen for some time. Furthermore, Sheen's suit charges that Warner Bros. had no problem with Sheen's personal life until Sheen "deigned to criticize Lorre."
Sheen's suit also charges that Lorre is more interested in the two other shows -- "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mike and Molly" -- that he produces for CBS and wanted to shut down "Two and a Half Men." Lorre, the suit alleged, has a higher profit margin in those shows.
"The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen’s rantings in the media," said Lorre's lawyer Howard Weitzman. "These accusations are simply imaginary."
Warner Bros., which declined to comment on the suit, has previously said it believes that its contract with Sheen calls for arbitration to resolve any disputes and will likely seek to block any efforts by Singer to have this matter play out in the courts.
Should the matter end up in front of a jury, Warner Bros. will have to prove that Sheen was unable to deliver in front of the camera.
"If he's missing work, showing up late, any sort of conduct that would simply frustrate the ability of them to make the programming, that will probably be the best argument," said Stern.
Sheen's camp will, among other things, try to show that Lorre's disdain for Sheen had reached such heights that he was willing to sabotage his own show and own financial interests to spite the star.
Of course, it's a long way from trading blows to a courtroom.
"My guess is it gets settled, almost everything does," predicted powerhouse entertainment lawyer Bert Fields.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre in happier times. Credit: Mark Ralston / Getty Images.