CBS dropped a few details Wednesday about its newly refurbished "Two and a Half Men" -- but somehow neglected to bring along the new star of its No. 1-rated sitcom, Ashton Kutcher.
Speaking to reporters at the TV press tour in Beverly Hills, Entertainment President Nina Tassler revealed that when the former star of "That '70s Show" joins the "Men" cast this fall, he'll play Walden Schmidt, an Internet billionaire with a broken heart. Kutcher, whose character will be introduced in a two-part season premiere, is replacing Charlie Sheen, who was sacked from the show earlier this year after suffering well-publicized drug problems and openly tangling with the producers.
"Who could have predicted that we would be here six months ago?" Tassler told reporters -- although, as one journalist pointed out, Sheen's lengthy history of trouble pointed to just such an outcome long before it happened.
"Our whole focus right now is moving forward," Tassler added.
Apparently moving forward meant walling off Kutcher from the prying questions of reporters, at least for now. Although CBS dedicated an entire day to marketing its shows at the press tour, it did not include a panel for "Two and a Half Men," the most-watched comedy on TV, which is undergoing the most high-stakes revamping of any series in years.
Tassler explained the lack of a "Men" session by saying that the show is in production. "Men" did its first table read earlier this week and is due to shoot the season premiere on Friday.
"When everyone walked on that set on Monday, you could cut the air with a knife," Tassler said. "Do you pay extra special attention to the first season? Absolutely."
Keeping viewers in the dark is an important part of getting them to tune in to see how Sheen's exit is handled, she added. She declined to confirm stories that have suggested the premiere will open with the funeral of Sheen’s character, swinging bachelor Charlie Harper.
"Men" isn't the only signature show getting a reboot. CBS is doing much the same thing with its forensics drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," with Ted Danson replacing Laurence Fishburne, who exited abruptly after getting a cool reception from fans for his work the last few seasons.
The network is hoping both Danson and Kutcher have the type of broad fan bases that can keep ratings aloft for at least a few more seasons.
"He is a huge TV star, he has a tremendous amount of charisma," Tassler said of Danson.
But she admitted that viewing for the two aging franchises could taper off once the initial curiosity dies down: "I don't know if the numbers will be where they once were," she conceded.
Tassler largely deflected questions about what lessons CBS learned through the Sheen affair, preferring instead to hail the "extraordinary" cast and producers behind the show.
When asked if the network would institute new policies about hiring troubled performers, she cracked: "That would probably be every actor in the business."
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-- Scott Collins
Photo: Angus T. Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer star in "Two and a Half Men." Credit: Matt Hoyle/CBS & Warner Bros.