As Charlie Sheen came perilously close on Tuesday to missing his call time on “Two and a Half Men,” CBS, Warner Bros. Television and executive producer Chuck Lorre were struggling with how to address the problem of their number one star and his private behavior.
Sheen (pictured right, at the Playboy Mansion in late 2010/ Splash News) reportedly went on a vodka-fueled bender this weekend in Las Vegas with three porn stars. He did make it to the sitcom's set on time, but not before causing ripples of worry at the television studio and production company that spilled all over the internet.
A senior executive with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap that both CBS and Warner Bros. Television are "worried" about Sheen and have been in dialogue about how to deal with him.
The actor, who had the network nervous before signing up for two more seasons in mid-2010, failed to show up to a meeting that the network and TV production company sought with him last week. (An insider on his team said that Sheen may not have known about it.)
But after the weekend bender, the concern ratcheted up to discussing possible options, whether rehab or shutting down the show, according to online reports and knowledgeable individuals. Lorre is believed to be especially concerned.
That discussion signals just how far into the danger zone the hard partying actor has wandered – since everyone knows how little Hollywood executives like to confront the peccadilloes of their top-earning talent.
A network spokesman had no comment when contacted by TheWrap.
Up to now, Sheen has mainly kept his troubles outside the studio walls. But the executives behind the show – a cash cow for CBS that has doubled the star’s pay in May to $1.8 million per episode – may now be prepared to take some action.
For his part, the actor has retained high powered lawyer Marty Singer and is said to be prepared to sue if the studio shuts down the production on “Men” without legal cause.
Sheen's position is as long as he shows up to the show and knows his lines, neither CBS nor Lorre nor Warner's have grounds for action.
"Unless he's unable to render service," there is no legal basis for action, said one person in his camp. The individual pointed out that Sheen is not contractually required to attend meetings with studio executives.
But it would be unusual if the studios and Lorre were not worried at this point. The sitcom, now in its eighth season, still draws huge ratings and reaps big earnings for CBS.
"Two and a Half Men" is averaging just over 14 million viewers a week. That’s down some 6 percent from 2009-2010 and is a series low – but it’s still good enough to rank “Men” as the most popular comedy on television, beating out Lorre’s other popular CBS series, “Big Bang Theory.”
That also makes “Men” an indispensible, top-earner for CBS.
An October 2010 Advertising Age report found “Men” to be the CBS lineup’s most expensive advertising buy, costing advertisers $206,722 for a spot during the sitcom’s broadcast. “Mike & Molly,” the new comedy that immediately follows the show on Mondays, earned a second-best $189,190, according to the Ad Age report.
“I think CBS will do everything possible to keep it on the air,” said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at the New York-based Horizon Media firm. The show has also been a huge hit in syndication, Adgate added.
But Sheen’s weekend in Vegas marks his third publicized erratic incident involving possible substance abuse in just over a year. He’s appearing in the news for all the wrong reasons at an accelerated – and alarming – pace.
That leaves CBS and officials at Warner's with a tough, looming choice over what to do if Sheen’s extra-curricular behavior worsens.
Earlier Tuesday, Stan Rosenfield, Sheen’s publicist, suggested the worries over Sheen’s behavior have been blown out of proportion. "Memo to Chicken Little: The sky remains in place,” Rosenfield said in an email to TheWrap.
"I keep reading that Charlie Sheen did not show up for work today,” he also said. “I read those remarks two hours before his scheduled time of arrival. Charlie Sheen arrived at work today and is there as I send this."
Sheen, however, has had multiple encounters with the law and rehab throughout his career, including several incidents that reached a media frenzy in the past year.
In February, he put himself in rehab as a “preventative measure” while awaiting court proceedings on his Christmas Day 2009 domestic violence incident in Aspen with now-estranged wife Brooke Mueller.
Then, in late October, during the last days of his probation for the Colorado incident, police were called to a domestic disturbance at the Plaza Hotel in New York, where they found Sheen drunk and naked in his suite and a porn star also naked and barricaded in the bathroom, after Sheen supposedly had a drug- and booze-fueled tantrum over a missing $165,000 Patek Philippe watch.
About a month later, Sheen sued adult film actress Christina Walsh (pictured above, in a TMZ photo with Sheen) claiming attempted extortion.
At a CBS event earlier this year, Lorre admitted that he'd been "in denial through the whole process" of Sheen's legal troubles and hesitation to resign with the show. But the executive producer said he looked forward to future seasons of "Two and a Half Men" because "we have a lot more stories to tell.”