CBS’ hit comedy Two and a Half Men may be in trouble now that its star, Charlie Sheen, is set to enter rehab for three months. The New York Daily News has reported that Sheen’s battle with drug and alcohol put the actor in the hospital following heavy drinking with several women at his home, including porn star Kacey Jordan. This is not the first time that Sheen, 45, has found himself in the hospital after an alcohol- and drug-induced bender. People Magazine reported last year that the comedic actor was hospitalized following an alcohol-fueled breakdown at New York City’s Plaza Hotel.
That Sheen needs help is obvious, but less certain is the fate of Two and a Half Men, the top-rated comedy on television, now in its eighth season. Besides Sheen, the show employs other actors and approximately 300 crew members who all had planned on filming an additional eight episodes this season. They are not the first to have to face difficult casting decisions.
By 2000, Robert Downey Jr. had already been arrested on drug charges and spent time in rehab. BBC News reported at the time that this did not keep the producers of Fox’s popular law firm comedy Ally McBeal from casting him as a series regular, playing title character Ally McBeal’s boyfriend, Larry Paul. He won a Golden Globe and received an Emmy nomination for his role, but had to be written out when he was arrested in late 2000 for possession of drugs.
Although his presence on Ally McBeal had been credited with bringing the show’s flagging ratings back up,
the New York Times reported that head producer David E. Kelley ordered edits to the show’s storyline and additional filming to eliminate the character in 2001, as Downey was facing up to four years of jail time. His dismissal was considered a factor in the 2002 cancellation of Ally McBeal, which begs the question if Downey managed to cause the downfall of McBeal as a supporting actor, what could the absence of Sheen, the show’s star, do? Of course, with over 14 million weekly viewers, Two and a Half Men is much healthier than Ally McBeal was.
Less expected than either Sheen or Downey’s show exits was John Ritter’s, the star of 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter. Ritter’s starring role as the father of teenage daughters was cut short when the actor died on Sept. 11, 2003, at age 54, of an aortic dissection. At that point, the show had only been on the air since 2002, and was in its second season. Producers at ABC made the decision to take a two-month hiatus before renaming the show 8 Simple Rules and beginning to air episodes that incorporated Ritter’s death.
8 Simple Rules lasted until 2005, but the Wall Street Journal noted that Ritter’s death was considered a key factor in the show’s ultimate demise. Many of the show’s storylines following Ritter’s real life death were focused on the characters dealing with the death of his character, Paul Hennessy. Additions to 8 Simple Rules, James Garner and David Spade, were unable to revive it.
The lesson from 8 Simple Rules that Two and a Half Men‘s producers can take away is that if they decide to replace Sheen, they should do so quickly and then move on. It would mean redefining the story line, but it would be preferable to a slow death. It has been done successfully on the CW drama One Tree Hill, and soap operas have been doing it for decades. The only question is whether Two and a Half Men‘s writers will have to, or if Sheen will be back in time for the next season.