TV

CBS content to live with Charlie Sheen's winter of discontent

Phil Rosenthal
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

So Charlie Sheen says he is on a drug called Charlie Sheen. Can you imagine how long the commercial would have to be to list all the side effects of that?

One of them, apparently, is that those who talk to the "Two and a Half Men" star, whose hit CBS sitcom has shut down production for at least the rest of this season, seem to think they are the only ones doing it. It's like some kind of Jedi mind trick. But maybe "exclusive" means something different when it concerns a guy with two live-in girlfriends.

"He's on the air quite a bit these days," CBS Corp. President and Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, one of the people with whom Sheen is publicly at odds, said Tuesday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco. "I wish he would have worked this hard to promote himself for an Emmy."

Sheen has been in Spin City mode this week, after last week's decision by CBS and Warner Bros. Television to suspend production of Sheen's popular series in response to what they called "the totality of Charlie Sheen's statements, conduct and condition."

Sheen makes in the neighborhood of $2 million an episode between his pay and share of syndication revenue. So amid talk of an outright series cancellation or replacing him, he has gone on a PR offensive in hopes of rallying support for his return and executive producer Chuck Lorre's ouster, while his legal reps seek to secure his paychecks in any case.

It's been irresistible to media outlets.

Beginning with what the Bangles called "just another manic Monday" back in the '80s, when Sheen made his best movies, Sheen has talked, talked and talked some more.

ABC labeled its interview with CBS' "Two and a Half Men" star Sheen an "exclusive" and promised viewers a "first look." The syndicated "Access Hollywood" touted its own "exclusive." NBC's "Today" sent out a release promising Sheen's "first interview." E! News hyped its own Sheen "exclusive."

The TMZ website put up a live video stream of the interview it would excerpt on its syndicated TV show, and a few hours later Piers Morgan announced Sheen was giving "his first live television interview to me," which CNN had publicized as the "first live network interview" for Sheen.

"It's been a tsunami of media, and I've been riding it on a mercury surfboard," Sheen told Morgan, earning Morgan's program its second-biggest audience since its debut in January and its best performance among advertiser-coveted viewers age 25 to 54. "I'm on a mission right now. It's an operation, actually, to right some terrible wrongs."

Sheen told ABC he was on a drug "called Charlie Sheen," which he said is "not available, because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off, and your children will weep over your exploded body."

He told E! that Lorre is a "retarded zombie" and Moonves "needs to fire this clown. They're not going with my plan. My plan is the best in the world. They all get slaughtered if they don't follow my plan."

A little crazy goes a long way and rarely in the right direction. But even in a worst-case scenario, this won't end Sheen's career. It's merely going to launch a new one, as the Gary Busey of his generation.

Mel Gibson even called Sheen to voice support, Sheen told Howard Stern on Tuesday, while NBC was airing a new "Today" interview, and ABC's "GMA" put on more clips. "Of course he did. Mel's a rock star. I love him," Sheen said on Stern's pay-radio Sirius XM show. "I'm a huge fan, and he's a beautiful man."

Moonves said he hoped "Two and a Half Men" comes back next year, but he didn't address whether that would include Sheen. In the meantime, Moonves said, scrapping the rest of this season with only 16 of 24 ordered episodes produced actually works out pretty well for the network.

"Financially, it's actually a gainer for us," Moonves said. "Repeats obviously get somewhat less revenue than the originals. It's a show that repeats very well. Doing eight less originals saves us quite a bit of money. I'm not saying long term I want this to go on or that it's great. But the repeat (that aired on CBS Monday) actually was the fourth-highest-rated show of the night."

Moonves pointed out that his company is in the content business, and "content is forever." "I Love Lucy" still brings CBS $10 million a year, and its last episode was produced 54 years ago.

"Fifty-four years from now, some other corporate idiot will be sitting in front of you talking about 'NCIS' and all the money's he's getting from that," Moonves said. "We're finding new and better ways to sell our content every single day."

Sheen may not be content at the moment, but his discontent is, and it's eminently marketable.

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