Image Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBSFor fans of Two and a Half Men, the news that Charlie Sheen would voluntarily enter a rehabilitation center was no doubt bittersweet: The 45-year-old actor could get the help that he needs even though his absence immediately casts doubt on the future of TV’s most-watched comedy. It’s unclear how long he’ll be gone; his publicist didn’t provide any additional information, and neither CBS nor the comedy’s production company, Warner Bros. TV, indicated when the show would return from hiatus. (It’s currently on a scheduled break and was expected to resume on Tuesday.)

Fortunately, CBS not only appears to have options for the rest of the season but also shouldn’t take too much of a ratings hit while its prized asset is gone. After all, the network hasn’t earned its No. 1 status based on Men alone. With ratings powerhouses like NCIS, Survivor, and The Big Bang Theory, “there is definitely some depth” to its schedule, concedes one competitor. And CBS has been down this road before with Sheen: Men shut down in February 2010 and missed two episodes so the actor could voluntarily enter rehab. The decision came two months after he was arrested for fighting with his wife at their Aspen, Colo., home over the holidays.

Here’s what CBS could have in mind:

For now, Men will likely stay put on Mondays. The network has two unaired episodesin the can (Warner Bros. TV has already produced 16 episodes), and after that, the Eye can either run repeats of the comedy in its time slot or potentially greenlight a few fresh episodes that could work around Sheen’s absence. (Hey, who wouldn’t want a Holland Taylor-centric show for once?)

It seems unlikely that CBS will move one of its successful sitcoms from Thursdays to Mondays if Men does go off the air, so there’s always the chance that the net could move How I Met Your Mother to 9 p.m. and air repeats of Men at 8. Better yet, there’s a promising new comedy in the wings that could break out and give the Eye a welcome cushion: It’s called Mad Love and stars Jason Biggs, Sarah Chalke, Tyler Labine, and Judy Greer. It’ll debut on Monday, Feb. 14, at 8:30.

As for Men’s long-term scenario, it’s impossible to nail anyone down for answers because it’s just too soon to predict. Warner Bros. TV has a deal in place to deliver episodes of Men to CBS through 2012, and Sheen closed a new pact last May to stay on the show. And given his popularity — a recent Harris poll indicated he’s the sixth most popular actor on TV — it’s obvious the public isn’t ready to say goodbye to his beloved character just yet. Stay tuned.

Episode Recaps

Two and a Half Men | Monday, 8-8:30 p.m., CBS The warlock has left the building. With the spectacular, bridge-burning, jumping-down-?the-inflatable-?emergency-slide exit of Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men…
Two and a Half Men
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