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Charlie Sheen's felony charge puts dark cloud over CBS' 'Two and a Half Men'

February 8, 2010 |  4:22 pm

Getprev-2 Trouble and Charlie Sheen have never been strangers, but now the star's felony rap could cause major headaches for his TV bosses.

Sheen was charged Monday with felony menacing and two lesser counts in connection with a Christmas incident in which Aspen, Colo., police said he assaulted and threatened his wife. Sheen, out on bail, didn't enter a plea and is due back for a court hearing March 15. If convicted, he could face three years behind bars.

What does that mean for "Two and a Half Men," the No. 1-rated sitcom that stars Sheen as a irredeemable cad? Well, probably nothing good. Insiders say that the producers can likely rejigger the remainder of this season's production schedule while Sheen prepares his defense. But the long-term situation is much more uncertain. And uncertainty drives TV executives nuts when it comes to a cash cow like "Men." The sitcom is the TV's most-watched, with an average of nearly 15 million viewers this season, according to the Nielsen Co. 

The situation is especially complex because the network and Warner Bros., which makes the show, have banked so heavily on the series, in its seventh year, lasting at least through the 2011-12 TV season. "Men" over the years has become expensive to produce, in large part because of Sheen's high salary. In 2008, a TV Guide survey ranked him the highest-paid actor on TV, making $825,000 per episode, or nearly $20 million per year.

Warner Bros. sued CBS in 2008 for more than $49 million, claiming the network had failed to reimburse the studio as promised for deficits it had incurred making the show. The case was settled last year when CBS agreed to renew "Men" for three more seasons and also gave a multi-year pickup to "Big Bang Theory," another Monday comedy produced by Chuck Lorre.

However, that deal could end up going bust if Sheen winds up in prison or has to miss long blocks of production days because of trial prep. That means CBS will likely find itself in the unenviable position this May of announcing a fall schedule that relies heavily on "Men" without even knowing whether the star will be available.

Through spokespersons, CBS and Warner declined to comment, as did Lorre via email. Sheen's spokesman did not return a call and email seeking comment.

-- Scott Collins 

Photo: Charlie Sheen arrives at the courthouse Monday. Credit: Getty Images

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