The Charlie Sheen Show without Charlie Sheen.

Unless you’ve been living in a rock, you’ve probably heard that Charlie Sheen has been fired from Two And A Half Men. Most of the focus is on Sheen himself, but I’m more curious about what happens to the show. It’s on my low-priority list and so I’ve only watched a few episodes this season, but it’s still an interesting subject because cast fluidity is something I’ve written about before. Basically, I think that sitcoms would be better served by rotating secondary characters in and out. I even mentioned TAAHM as an example of a show doing this effectively with Rose (and the mother, for that matter) becoming a periodic appearance rather than full-time cast member.

Of course, Charlie Sheen’s is hardly a secondary character. He is the foundation upon which the show is based. You can get away with a lot sometimes even with show’s main stars. For a little while, anyway. 8 Simple Rules survived John Ritter, Valerie survived Valerie Harper, Spin City survived Michael J Fox (with some help from Charlie Sheen, coincidentally enough), and so on. But this show really, really needs the Charlie Harper character. It’s difficult to imagine the show surviving without Charlie Sheen, but impossible to imagine it surviving without Charlie Harper. The crux of the show involves brothers. You can try to bring in a cousin or something, but it would be forcing too much.

So I think I am on board with the Darin Stevens solution. Stevens, for those who might recall, was the husband of Samantha Stevens on Bewitched wherein one Dick (York) was replaced by another (Sargent) and nobody really cared. For secondary cast members, I think that this is something that shows should consider more often. To take another example, The Drew Carey Show dropped Drew’s brother to save a few bucks. Dropping the actor wasn’t a problem, but dropping the character was because he was married to another character on the show and the excuse they gave was inadequate. They would have been better by simply bringing on a new actor to play the part. The same actually goes for Drew’s primary love interest, Kate, who was replaced with another character instead of another actress and a lot was lost along the way. Other than Darin Stevens, the only time I can think of when a TV show replaced an actor was Mad About You, whom at first had an elderly British neighbor by the name Hal and then had a young British neighbor named Hal… but they backtracked when the original actor for Hal came back and explained away that those were two different snobby, British guys named Hal.

Of course, replacing the actor of a member of the cast is one thing. It’s another thing to try that with the star of the show. Perhaps especially when the character is a mirror of the actor who plays them. Even so, I think it’s really the only way to save the show. Someone suggested Ron Livingston for the part and I think that would actually be a phenomenal pick. But no less than Drew Carey points out that there are 100 people that could do it. In Los Angeles, probably thousands. He’s talking about a new role, but I say make it the same one and avoid any messy explanations.

So should they bother? From a financial perspective, absolutely. First, it’s the most popular sitcom on television (more popular in reruns than many shows on first-runs)and you don’t leave something like that on the table. You just don’t. Second, replacing the actor for Charlie would probably gauge a spike of interest on how the new guy does. Particularly if they can get someone that people have heard of. Even Livingston might qualify there. Rob Morrow is also available. It’s a little dicier from an artistic standpoint. I can’t really comment since I don’t know where they left the show. But seriously, this show is not art. People laugh at the characters, but the writers go out of their way to make sure that we don’t care about them. Other than Charlie Sheen, it’s not a show that the creative talent is artistically proud of. Why not? Just cash the checks and keep going.

Category: Theater

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16 Responses to How Many Men & How Many Half Men?

  1. PeterW says:

    I often wondered why shows don’t crowdsource more often. The guy who plays Obama on SNL is a very poor likeness, and I expect that in a city of millions there are many people out there who resemble Obama better, can perform decently well for a brief skit, and would be willing to take the role for minimal or no pay. This seems like a clear win all around.

    Similarly, as you say, shows could get a lot more flexibility by avoiding the brand-name stars and working more towards the commodity end of the professional actors, especially on sitcoms. I don’t expect that the reason folks don’t do this is because of a dearth of acting talent, but rather because of institutional sclerosis and some form of status signaling. (Search costs are another issue, but at ~$500k an episode you should be able to amortize the cost of a few screeners pretty quickly.)

  2. trumwill says:

    Having a brand name on the show is really pretty important when it comes to getting them to watch the show in the first place. If TAAHM had started with Jon Cryer and some non-name instead of Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer, it’s possible that it never would have picked up the viewership to begin with.

    However, having done so, I think that now they have a freer hand. The show is already one everyone’s radar and was even before Sheen’s meltdown. So now I think that they could afford to replace Sheen with someone else and have it limp on for at least a while. It’s possible they could do it with an absolute no-name. But caution would suggest that they look to someone of middling stature (like Livingston or Morrow).

    On the other hand, they’re allegedly talking to Rob Lowe. If those rumors are correct, they’re almost certainly going to go with a new character instead of Charlie Harper. Bad move.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    So I think I am on board with the Darin Stevens solution. Stevens, for those who might recall, was the husband of Samantha Stevens on Bewitched wherein one Dick (York) was replaced by another (Sargent) and nobody really cared.

    I disagree. 41 years later, and people STILL mention that there were two different Darrins…

    The old switcheroo was pulled on Roseanne with the character of Becky, but Charlie is the raison d’etre of TAAHM. You can’t simply find a new Charlie and call it a day. The unspoken joke of the show was that Charlie Sheen was pretty much playing a version of himself.

    BTW Dick Sargent’s actual last name is Cox.

  4. trumwill says:

    I disagree. 41 years later, and people STILL mention that there were two different Darrins…

    Well, yeah. And people would notice Ron Livingston is not Charlie Sheen. But would they care? To used Bewitched as an example, would it have been better if they had killed the Darin character off and had Samantha remarry some other dude? I think the same applies to Sheen. Having a Sheen-like cousin move in would be worse than having a Sheen-like actor play Sheen.

    The unspoken joke of the show was that Charlie Sheen was pretty much playing a version of himself.

    Well, except for the fact that Charlie Sheen makes Charlie Harper seem downright functional in comparison. But yeah, that’s true. But Sheen is already fired. The only question now is whether they find a way to keep going and what way they do find.

  5. Peter says:

    Sitcom casting directors hire “name” actors even when lesser actors might do just as well for the same reason why office managers buy Xerox copiers even when other brands might be just as good. If you buy a Xerox for your office and it doesn’t work well, your boss isn’t going to blame you – after all, you bought the best-known brand on the market. Similarly, if you hire a superstar actor for the sitcom and the show bombs, the producers and other powers-that-be aren’t going to blame you, after all you got the best available talent.

  6. trumwill says:

    On the other hand, if you hire a top-tier cast and it fails, it makes you look all the worse.

    “You couldn’t even get a comedy with Michael Keaton in it to succeed?!”

  7. Abel says:

    I’ve really enjoyed watching the crash and burn of Charlie Sheen.

  8. Maria says:

    I hated both Darrins. One of them was gay. Samantha deserved much better.

  9. trumwill says:

    Betwitched is one of the ultimate examples of a dated home environment. The degree of control that Darrin assumes over Samantha (who could, with a twitch of a nose, turn him into a potted plant) is startling.

  10. stone says:

    I disagree, I think Fred Armisen rocks as Obama. But then again I’m a big Armisen fan, and he’s a big part of why I watch SNL. Don’t discount that factor (we watch to see certain actors).

    I wrote about 2 1/2 once before, when Mr. Tone’s dad was here chuckling over it. That’s the only time I’ve seen it. I suspect there must be a bunch of misogynists out there who love Charlie Sheen and his antics, but I admit I haven’t seen any evidence to support my theory.

  11. trumwill says:

    Sheila, TAAHM is an interesting show, generally speaking. I’ve commented on it in the past as an example of the sort of show that some people say Hollywood “can’t make anymore” because it will “offend women.” A lot of the women on the show are extremely undesirable people, stupid, greedy, and evil.

    At the same time, though, none of the two and a half men are prizes themselves. Charlie is Charlie, Alan started off as a nice guy but became a “nice guy”. The kid turned out to be an extremely dim bulb. And there actually are some great women on it. Invariably Charlie’s girlfriends until he tragically loses them by being an idiot. But those are the exceptions.

    The men are bad. The women (with the above exceptions) are bad. But the bad men are the protagonists.

  12. Mike Hunt says:

    I think it is important to note that for a live-action sitcom to be picked up, its star has to be either somewhat well-known, either as an actor or a stand-up comic. That’s the hook to get people to watch. I think $h*! My Dad Says is a terrible show, but it never would have seen the light of day without Shatner.

    The last quality sitcom that featured a cast of nobodies was The Wonder Years, and that was 1988.

  13. trumwill says:

    Sort of. It helps to have a big name associated with it, though they don’t have to be the main character. How I Met Your Mother, for instance, has two well-knowns as side characters but a relative unknown as the main character. It often works out better that way. Some other shows, like Mike & Molly, The Big Bang Theory, and Outsourced have familiar faces but not really “name” actors.

  14. Mike Hunt says:

    I agree with you on Outsourced, but I don’t think it will be seeing the light of day for season 2. As for your other examples…

    HIMYM: While Ted is nominally the main character, it is more of an ensemble. As you stated, Doogie Howser and Band Camp Girl were well known, and since Freaks and Geeks gained a cult-following over the years, Nick Andopolis was a familiar face. Only Ted and Robin were relative nobodies, and Ted was the tour guide in Not Another Teen Movie.

    M&M: Billy Gardell is a well-regarded standup, so he fits in the Tim Allen, Drew Carey, Jerry Seinfeld genre. Also, having two morbidly obese leads sort of limits your choices.

    TBBT: Leonard was from Roseanne and Christmas Vacation and Penny was from 8 Simple Rules. The irony of the show is that it was written for these two, yet Sheldon was the breakout star.

  15. trumwill says:

    Outsourced is supposed to be on the border. If they keep the three-hour Thursdays, it’ll probably be back. Otherwise, it’s probably toast. It does have a familiar face (Deidrich Bader) as a side character, though.

    HIMYM: I agree that it’s more of an ensemble, but I do think that Ted is at the center of it.

    M&M: Wasn’t aware of the stand-up. I agree that changes things.

    TBBT: Howard was on Sunset 60, too. But I think they qualify as “familiar faces” more than anything. I don’t think that anyone said “I’m going to watch that show cause the boyfriend from Roseanne was on it!”

  16. Mike Hunt says:

    To further illustrate that stand-ups can be nobodies and still get sitcoms… Tim Allen was LITERALLY a convicted cocaine trafficker, did over two years in jail for it, and ABC had no idea about any of this when they gave him the show. By the time they found out, it was already a huge hit. It helped that he was in jail from 1979-81 and the show debuted in 1991.

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