Is the ''Two and a Half Men'' star ready to return to prime time?

By James Hibberd
Updated February 25, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

Imagine if your bacchanalian porn-star party resulted in your co-workers not getting paid. Would you be psyched to go into the office? That’s what Charlie Sheen faces when he arrives back on the job Feb. 28 to resume production on CBS’ hit sitcom Two and a Half Men.

After being ordered to take time off to sober up (call it Celebrity Rehab: Home Edition), Sheen, 45, says he’s ready to return to work as TV’s highest-paid actor on Monday’s highest-rated show. But it could be awkward. Because of the break, CBS reduced the show’s production order by four episodes — meaning the 300 crew members are all taking a pay hit. (A rumored offer by Sheen to pay one-third of the production’s lost wages — with the network and studio covering the remainder — never formally materialized.)

Sheen, his producers, and the rest of the Men cast — who endured another shutdown last year as part of the fallout from Sheen’s domestic dispute with his then wife Brooke Mueller — would not comment on the situation, though costar Holland Taylor offered, ”I can only say I care about Charlie — indeed, I care about his parents and siblings, and I wish him a true recovery.” Meanwhile, Men co-creator Chuck Lorre used his on-air vanity cards to express frustration with his troubled star, semi-joking after the show’s Feb. 14 episode, ”If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I’m gonna be really pissed.”

Even as he prepares to begin filming, Sheen seems anything but repentant for the headaches he’s caused his co-workers. On Feb. 14, in the first of two calls to The Dan Patrick Show, the actor blamed his bosses for the furlough, and seemed uninterested in changing his partying ways. Sheen said he had once been sober for five years and was ”bored out of my tree.” He even joked that crack use is fine ”if you can manage it socially.”

”That’s denial,” says addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky. ”He’s sort of announced he’s controlling his cocaine use. He’s had sustained sobriety and then relapsed. That category is the most difficult to treat.”

But with viewers continuing to grant Men giant ratings (the show averages more than 14 million viewers, and even its repeats often win the night), everyone’s eager to get the cameras rolling again. Until, of course, the next time Sheen’s behavior makes worldwide headlines. And then…what? Sheen — who earns $1.2 million per episode — says he has every intention of fulfilling his contract through next year. And his contract doesn’t have a morality clause, so the show’s studio, Warner Bros., may not have grounds to oust him. Perhaps when the deal expires, the network will take action (either cancel the show or replace him). But in the meantime, execs are left hoping their wayward star stays clean. Will it work? As Sheen told Dan Patrick, ”I healed really quickly, but I also unravel really quickly, so get me [on the air] right now.” And so far, that seems to be the plan. (Additional reporting by Tanner Stransky)