Mr. TV: Not Sorry, Charlie

Enough already. Les Moonves and company at CBS, it’s time to dump Charlie Sheen.  
Yes, he has drug problems. Yes, he has an alcohol problem. Yes, he has sex issues. And yes, he has terrorizing women problems. But, you know what? I don’t think Charlie Sheen, sober or not, cares about anyone but himself. So much so that he might very well be insane. He certainly looked it in the cavalcade of  frightening TV appearances last week.
Whatever. But what is said about his death spiral is the damage to people in his orbit. What happens to staffers on Two and a Half Men who may not have a job next year? Has Sheen even considered them? Doubt it.
But back to Charlie: Sheen has convinced himself that he’s the driving force behind CBS’ success without realizing the net has any number of hits outside of his grimy sitcom. And I imagine his arrogance blinds him to the precedent of sitcom actors being successfully replaced. More on that in a moment.
We work in a very forgiving business. When someone happens to enter rehab (Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer, for example), it’s no biggie. The show takes a short breather, the star gets clean and then goes on Oprah, and life goes on. But this feels different. Sheen has crossed several personal and professional lines in a very public and sordid way. If CBS allows him to set foot on the Two and a Half Men stage next season, it will send the message that it cares more about turning a profit (yeah, Two and a Half Men is a cash cow) than the integrity of its audience.
Since it’s the audience that has the final say, of course, I hope viewers flee in droves. No original episodes left for the remainder of the season does mean ratings will dwindle. But since any type of publicity is positive for a series, this insanity could still potentially ignite interest. Just look at 20/20’s ratings this week.
If it hadn’t moved The Big Bang Theory to Thursday, CBS would’ve had a built-in solution for the 2011-12 season by shifting Big Bang to Mondays at 9 p.m. Since there is no way CBS wants to give up its comedy foothold in the time period, I think it should roll the dice and find a replacement for Sheen.
Consider any number of long-running shows that had cast changes in their waning years.
Bewitched is a good example. Five seasons into its run, the original Darren, Dick York, exited due to a bad back, so in came Dick Sargent as Darren No. 2. The ratings were never as good as the original cast, nor was the quality of the series. But Bewitched did manage to last for three more seasons.
In an interesting twist, Sheen stepped in for Michael J. Fox on comedy Spin City (as a different character, but offering similar star wattage) when he left due to health issues. And while there was definitely something lacking, ABC did manage to get two additional seasons out of the comedy.
If CBS chooses to recast the role of Charlie Harper, there is no reason to believe Two and a Half Men will suddenly have a new and exciting feel. But eight seasons in, there is only a limited amount of time left anyway, and CBS and Warner Bros. still could cash in on another season or two.
That’s real money, and at this point, it has to be more attractive from a business perspective than the holding out hope that Sheen will do a real stint in rehab, stay sober long term and be contrite enough to win back fans and ratings. Plus, it gives the network the option to keep the still highly rated and profitable sitcom alive.