Charlie Sheen and Warner Bros. TV are at odds over a new deal for the "Two and a Half Men" star, with Sheen using the media to drop hints that he’s ready to walk away from the show if he doesn’t get what he wants.
The negotiation tango began Thursday afternoon when People.com posted an item reporting Sheen had told friends he was "done" with the Warner Bros.-produced hit, which airs on CBS. The item included a carefully worded statement from Sheen’s well-respected PR rep, Stan Rosenfield.
"Charlie’s deal is only through this current season," he said.
That’s true, people familiar with Sheen’s contract confirmed to TheWrap. But people close to the show also indicated that Sheen’s reps and Warners have been, and continue to discuss terms of a new contract that would keep Sheen on "Men" for one or two more seasons.
Warner Bros. has a long-term deal in place with CBS to keep "Men" on the air for two more seasons beyond the current one. The studio declined to comment, as did CBS.
But not long after the People.com report, TMZ.com countered with a report claiming "sources directly connected" to "Men" — i.e., sources at Warner Bros. TV — were "laughing" at the notion that Sheen would walk away from the show. The report also claims Warners has agreed to up Sheen’s salary to $1 million per episode, up from what the site says is his current payday of $825,000 per half-hour.
Warners declined comment on the TMZ story, too. But it’s worth noting here that TMZ is owned and operated by Warner Bros. TV, the very same Time Warner unit that’s in talks with Sheen.
Do the math.
It’s hardly unusual for stars to make noise about being burnt out or ready to leave a show when they’re looking for more money. Such talk is seen as part of the standard game of chicken big actors play with studios as both sides attempt to make the best deal possible for their respective perspectives.
If the TMZ figures are correct, Sheen would be giving up nearly $50 million if he left "Men."
Warner Bros. could also lose money, too — particularly if its deal with CBS contains language giving the network an out if a key cast member such as Sheen were to leave. That’s usually why studios try to lock up key talent in advance of long-term license fee deals with networks — though getting such star commitments isn’t always possible.
The timing of Sheen’s possible hardball negotiation ploy immediately struck some Hollywood insiders as odd. That’s because Warners and CBS have been standing solidly behind Sheen as he battles domestic violence charges, and even shut down "Men" for a couple of weeks so that Sheen could enter "pre"- hab.
The move was not without financial cost to Warner Bros.: The studio had an order from CBS for 24 episodes of "Men" this season, but had to cut that back to 22 episodes in order to make up for the lost time. No word on whether Warners sent Sheen a bill for the lost episodes.
You’d also think the last thing Sheen’s camp would want right now is media attention of any type, particularly coverage that makes it appear Sheen could soon be out of work. Sheen’s recent run-in with the law, as well as his well-documented substance abuse issues, could make it tough for him to find work on another series or movie.
That said, while all signs point to a negotiating ploy, the possibility that Sheen really just wants to step away from TV — and the public spotlight — can’t be ruled out. Other actors have walked away from lucrative deals for reasons that had nothing to do with money.
Rob Lowe, for example, left "The West Wing" after four years, prompting much Hollywood head-scratching at the time. Likewise, Julianna Margulies ditched "ER" despite a rich contract offer said to be worth more than $25 million.
More recently, William Petersen departed "CSI" in order to focus on smaller acting roles.
If Sheen does end up exiting "Men," Warner Bros. would have little problem finding an actor to replace him. The joke around Hollywood during Sheen’s recent stint in "pre"-hab was that brother Emilio Estevez was already on retainer, ready to step in for his sibling if need be.