INSIDE: Seven days of TV viewing
IT was the most public celebrity meltdown of the year. A huge star in and out of rehab pitted himself against a powerful studio, with one of television’s most popular comedy shows at stake.
When Charlie Sheen set fire to his career in February he took down his $ 1.2-millionan-episode pay cheque for Two And A Half Men and, for a while there, the show itself.
Now, Warner Bros and CBS must be hoping for the ultimate break-up revenge story when they unveil new Two And A Half Men leading man Ashton Kutcher to audiences.
The studio bosses will also dispense with Sheen’s Charlie Harper in what’s tipped to be the most-watched sitcom episode in television history.
Less than 12 hours after the show airs in the US, Australian viewers will be able to make up their own minds about whether bringing Kutcher in as Sheen’s replacement is a winning move. Details of the episode which ushers in Kutcher’s new character – internet genius and social clod Walden Schmidt – and how Harper dies have been closely guarded.
In recent weeks, Kutcher and co-stars Jon Cryer ( the other man) and Angus T. Jones ( the half, all pictured) have been on a carefully managed publicity trail designed to build the hype but give little away. The secrecy is in stark contrast to the public break-up between Sheen and his bosses.
By the time Sheen had made several verbal attacks on producer Chuck Lorre, they fired Sheen, citing ‘‘ moral turpitude’’, and set about resurrecting the show.
Kutcher may not be taking over Sheen’s role, but knows he has big shoes to fill.
After signing on for $ US700,000 an episode, the 33-year-old, who is married to actress Demi Moore, said in a statement that while he could never replace Sheen, ‘‘ I’m going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people’’.
Lorre admits he also took some convincing that the former That ’ 70s Show star was right for the role.
‘‘ I was completely convinced that we needed a forty-something co-star who would be a peer to Jon,’’ Lorre told Hollywood Reporter.
‘‘ It was obvious my assumption was wrong. Here was a guy with great comedy instincts, tons of experience and who is fearless. Taking the job proves that.’’
Co-star Cryer – accused by Sheen of being a ‘‘ troll’’ during one of his rants – has raved about his new colleague.
‘‘ Working with Ashton is a blast,’’ he told Entertainment Weekly.
‘‘ It’s a lot of fun . . . because we have to discover what works between us, and he’s game for anything.
‘‘ There are lines that have been crossed already that probably never should have been crossed, as you’ll see in the first episode.’’
Asked had there been tension on the set given the headlines the show had made all year, Cryer said ‘‘ that was only the first couple of days the first week’’.
‘‘ Ashton kind of blew that [ tension] out of the water pretty quickly,’’ he said.
‘‘ He’s willing to do anything for a joke. Plus, he hired a massage therapist for the entire crew, which had a relaxing effect.’’
In the US, adding spice to the ratings battle for the first Kutcher episode, rival channel Comedy Central has scheduled the Charlie Sheen Roast ( a one-off show in which Sheen will be the butt of jokes and stories from high-profile celeb mates) in the same timeslot. But WIN, for which Two And A Half Men had long been a ratings favourite, is aiming to cash in on the controversy with a bumper Tuesday night for the new season debut.
It will screen the final episode of season 8 ( the last Sheen shot) at 8pm, then the fasttracked Ashton Kutcher/ Charlie demise offering at 8.30pm.
WIN will premiere a new comedy, the Joy of Sets, at 9pm, then Charlie Sheen Roast at 9.30pm.