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Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre says the original concept for the hit sitcom took off from the premise of how “a child might be a positive influence on the life of a degenerate.” The wry Lorre adds in an interview in The Hollywood Reporter that in casting the show, “For some reason, the words ‘Charlie Sheen’ came to mind.”

Sheen’s extracurricular activities allegedly included, if you believe his tryst-mate Capri Anderson on Good Morning America, wrapping his hands around her neck and a death threat. Yet Sheen has suffered little fall-out in terms of his career. Indeed, there he was last night, on a new episode of Two and a Half Men, making anal-sex jokes with guest star Jenny McCarthy to gales of studio-audience laughter. (He’s also filed an extortion suit against Anderson.)

Contrast this with Mel Gibson, whose alleged acts and threats of violence scored Oksana Grigorieva a Larry King Live interview last week. Whereas Sheen’s notoriety has had no effect on the ratings or his own status on Two and a Half Men, Gibson’s non-acting behavior is one element in the lack of an American release date for his movie The Beaver, and industry pundits regularly opine that his career is severely damaged, if not over.

In each case, your degree of sympathy or lack of it for each man depends, in part, on the details — we each have our own standards beyond which another person’s actions become so appalling, you want nothing to do with him.

But I also think the medium in which each man works plays a factor. Gibson is a big, aloof movie star who invades our consciousness only when he has a movie release every few years. By contrast, Sheen is in our living rooms every week (more often if you’re a fan of syndicated reruns). Familiarity, in this case I think, breeds not contempt but comfort. For a lot of people, I believe there’s a general sense of, “How bad can this guy be if he shows up for work all the time, his co-stars perform with him, and he delivers a consistent performance?”

To Lorre’s point: casting a guy with a low-down reputation and putting him in a show in which a kid is positioned as a “positive influence” on a wayward adult (the series has strayed from that in recent seasons, I should add) has resulted in a positive influence on Sheen’s own image.

Agree? Disagree?

Twitter: @kentucker

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