It must be bizarre to be Charlie Sheen these days. The 44-year-old actor is mired in legal woes and bad press after an alleged argument with his wife on Christmas Day resulted in a host of criminal charges. Meanwhile on TV, he is beloved. At 15 million viewers, Two and a Half Men remains the most watched sitcom. So it was surprising when a report surfaced last week that Sheen — whose contract expires when Men wraps filming its seventh season April 9 — was planning to exit the show. ”He’s not coming back,” a source told People.com. Another insider said, ”Leaving is 100 percent his idea.” Unfortunately, there’s an added wrinkle: CBS has already renewed Men for another two seasons.
Since Sheen hasn’t officially told his bosses that he’s quitting, execs at Warner Bros., the studio that produces the show, presumed that the actor was taking his salary negotiations public to secure an even larger raise. (It wouldn’t be the first time — see: Brad Garrett, Katherine Heigl, and most recently, the cast of Jersey Shore.) Already, Warner Bros. had reportedly offered him nearly $1 million per episode, up from the $850,000 he receives today.
But a source close to the actor insists that this is no negotiation ploy. Sheen is exhausted and at a crossroads. He’s still facing jail time for charges of felony menacing, criminal mischief, and third-degree assault from the dispute with his wife, Brooke Mueller; a trial date has been set for July 21. Moreover, Sheen can afford to take a step out of the spotlight, especially since he has a stake in Men‘s syndication profits (not to mention the $18 million or so he raked in for this season).
The real question is whether Men can afford to go on without him. It wouldn’t be unprecedented: Laverne & Shirley did one more season without Cindy Williams in 1982 (albeit with painful results). But such a change would likely hurt ad sales for Men, which reportedly commands north of $220,000 for a 30-second spot, and prompt CBS to bump the show from its 9 p.m. perch on Mondays in favor of The Big Bang Theory. Instead, it seems far more likely that Warner Bros. will persuade its volatile star to work an abbreviated schedule in order to assure fans and Madison Avenue that while Sheen may be down, he’s definitely not out.