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'Two and a Half Men': Help wanted

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TV network seeks famous male actor, 20s-40s, to rescue hit comedy series. Must be able to deliver bawdy dialogue in a humorous and non-creepy manner, plus withstand enormous media scrutiny and critical comparisons with previous employee. Starting salary of $4 million per year. Absolutely no drug use tolerated (we mean it this time!). Warlocks need not apply.

Okay, so CBS hasn’t actually resorted to running a classified ad, but insiders say the network and Warner Bros. will likely move forward with plans to replace Charlie Sheen on their megahit Two and a Half Men. In fact, casting rumors started swirling almost immediately after the studio officially dismissed the troubled actor — who’s in the midst of a spectacular media meltdown — on March 7. But preliminary reports that Rob Lowe or John Stamos would step into the role have been shot down (Lowe is currently under contract on NBC’s Parks and Recreation; Stamos says he’s not interested). Besides, it’s not like Warner Bros. hasn’t had more immediate concerns: On March 10 — the same day Sheen’s trailer was driven off the lot, as EW first reported — he filed a $100 million lawsuit against his ex-employer and the series’ creator, Chuck Lorre.

Sheen demands that he be paid for the remainder of his contract, and asks for compensation on behalf of the show’s cast and crew. He also attempts to portray his well-documented downfall as a scheme orchestrated by Lorre.

”Chuck Lorre…[took] money away from the dedicated cast and crew of the popular television series Two and a Half Men in order to serve his own ego and self-interest and make the star of the series the scapegoat for Lorre’s own conduct,” reads the lawsuit.

In fact, Sheen claims his former boss has spent years ”humiliating, harassing, and disparaging” him. As examples, the suit cites Lorre-penned on-air vanity cards that referred to a ”Hooker in the Closet” (allegedly referencing the actor’s infamous NYC Plaza Hotel-trashing incident) and advised Men viewers to ”avoid degrading yourself by having meaningless sex with a stranger in a futile attempt to fill the emptiness in your soul.” (Sheen, it seems, assumed that statement referred to him.)

Lorre’s attorney quickly shot back in a statement: ”The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen’s rantings in the media. The accusations are simply imaginary. This lawsuit is about a fantasy ‘lottery’ payday for Charlie Sheen. Chuck Lorre’s concern has been and continues to be about Mr. Sheen’s health.”

One law professor is likewise unimpressed by the suit. Sheen’s media blitz — now including multicity live shows, the first two of which sold out in minutes — has done ”extensive damage to his credibility,” says Anthony Michael Sabino of St. John’s University’s Peter J. Tobin College of Business. ”It can be used to show that he’s volatile and prone to fits of anger.”

While Sheen digs in for battle, CBS and Warner Bros. (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner) have a few months to figure out the future of Men. Could it continue with costars Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones (who are both reportedly signed through 2012)? At least one veteran comedy showrunner is optimistic that the sitcom can survive with another strong male lead who follows the Odd Couple formula. But he suggests the new character be a departure from Charlie’s babe-loving boozehound. ”I would try to do something that reinvigorated the show,” he says. ”I’d go with somebody who has a new take.”

No matter what, it seems unlikely that the show would maintain its 15 million viewers each week without Sheen — but it may not need to. By shedding the actor, the production almost certainly downsizes his $1.2 million-per-episode paycheck — the biggest salary for any TV actor. Even if the ratings dip slightly, there’s a chance the show could be just as profitable with a cheaper star. ”Anything below $1.2 million will still be a bargain,” says one high-powered suit close to CBS.

Plus, there’s another reason to recast, although you won’t find it on any corporate balance sheet: Sheen’s attacks have been embarrassing. The actor has repeatedly suggested that he’s primarily responsible for the show’s success, taunting that CBS had better get used to lower ratings without him and calling Lorre a ”charlatan” whose ”tin can” dialogue was turned into ”pure gold” by the actor. It’s an insult to all those who have worked for eight seasons to make Men the No. 1 comedy on TV. For a respected showrunner like Lorre (whose other hits include The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly) and for CBS (which airs prime time’s top-rated comedy block), the old adage may be true: Success is the best revenge.

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