By James Hibberd
Updated March 17, 2011 at 07:00 PM EDT
Credit: Greg Gayne/CBS

Before Warner Bros. picks a new actor to replace Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men, creator Chuck Lorre and the studio first must decide: Who is the new character? Is he a party animal? Or maybe an uptight buffoon like Charlie’s brother Alan? Or is he actually a she?

Before Warner Bros. TV can start searching for Sheen’s replacement — and despite all the rumors, the studio that produces the CBS comedy hasn’t narrowed it down to any one person — internal strategy sessions have begun to figure out the best way to proceed with the seven-year-old comedy, EW has learned. It’s not as simple as grabbing another famous name like Rob Lowe (unavailable due to his work on Parks & Recreation) or John Stamos (who says he’s not interested).

The studio and Men creator Chuck Lorre aren’t talking, but Hollywood scribes have an opinion on how TV’s most-watched comedy can — and should — press ahead.

“The tricky thing about that show is that it’s basically The Odd Couple with a kid,” said one comedy showrunner. “If you did something other than that kind of character, then the theme of the show changes, and the whole reason for the show’s existence changes, and you’d have to do some significant groundwork to figure out what the new show is and then cast it based on that idea.”

But who says Sheen’s character has to be replaced by another bad boy? A veteran comedy scribe says this could be a great time to shake up of conceit.

“Because of the age of the show, I would try to do something that reinvigorated it, which means somebody that was different,” the scribe said. “A new take. When you go for more of the same with a show that’s been on for six, seven, eight years, then you’re not really offering anything new.”

One option would be to go the Frasier route — cast somebody who will be similar to Alan, Jon Cryer’s uptight character, rather than a total contrast. Lorre’s Big Bang Theory certainly has performed well with a cast of characters who all have a geek sensibility.

“If they find somebody that’s extremely sharp and has high name value that people are going to be interested in, and their wheelhouse is another uptight OCD-ish guy like Jon Cryer’s character, then they’ll lean into it,” the veteran said.

Neither of the writers were in favor of casting a woman to replace Sheen. Not only would it invalidate the show’s title, but it wouldn’t align with the show’s audience.

“When a show’s been around that long, they have tons of research as to who their audience really is,” said a writer-producer. “And if their audience is mostly 35-to-65 year-old men, then you’re not going to bring in a female lead and expect it to do anything but drop off a bit.”

If the studio does recast Men, how does is it properly introduce a new character to fans? One of the writer-producers agreed the show should not pull a Bewitched, “where you just try to slide someone in and pretend it’s the exact same show.”

“I think people are too savvy for it now,” said a showrunner. “You do it like a Band-Aid and go for it.”

The showrunners endorsed how some other classic TV series with a major casting change, such as Valerie’s Family, handled the swap: making a passing reference to the exit of the previous character and quickly moving on.

“If it were the kind of show were the characters were really growing and developing over the course of many years, you could try to develop a story line that explained it,” the person said. “My guess would be that maybe the first or second scene of the show would be the new person showing up with suitcases at the door … and you do it in backstory, like, ‘Well that was crazy when he left and then this new guy came.'” — Reporting by Dan Snierson