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Ashton Kutcher to Play Broken-Hearted Internet Billionaire on ‘Two and a Half Men’

CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler describes tense first table read

Ashton Kutcher's character on "Two and a Half Men" will be a broken-hearted Internet millionaire, CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler said Wednesday.

Tassler said his character, Walden Schmidt, will be introduced over a two-part episode airing over two weeks. She declined to confirm or deny reports that Charlie Sheen's character will be killed off.

"The show will be as irreverent as it has always been. Our program practices people are already on high alert," joked Tassler (left).

Asked if killing off Sheen's character would be too dark a turn, she praised executive producer Chuck Lorre's writing — suggesting that he would be able to pull it off. "I think you have to look at Chuck and you have to loook at the genius and the talent behind his writing."

She also ducked a question about whether she would ever work with Sheen again, telling TheWrap: "Charlie's moved on to greener pastures. He's obviously got a lot of opportunity on his slate, so he's busy."

Tassler spoke at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. She repeatedly called Kutcher an "extraordinary" actor, and said the show was withholding details about his introduction to maintain mystery.

The secrecy reflects the tremendous pressure on Kutcher and Lorre to pull off the transition to a Sheen-free "Men." The show hopes to seamlessly replace TV's highest-paid star with a new actor in its ninth season, and will have to find a way to hold viewers once drawn by Sheen playing a version of himself.

CBS played it safe by not having Kutcher and the rest of the cast appear before reporters at TCA on Wednesday, saying it conflicted with the show's production schedule. But stars of other shows in production routinely appear. 

Tassler said the set was "very focused" and that the show "requires a lot of attention." She later described the tension surrounding the cast's first table read together, and said Lorre delivered a speech.

"It was really beautiful," she said. "I can't even remember the words. It was just something very touching. When you hear that first actor mutter that first line, you breathe a sigh of relief."

The show doesn't just need to escape Sheen's memory — the actor himself continues to bedevil it as well. His Comedy Central roast will air on the same night the show premieres — Sept. 19 — and he is suing his former bosses for $100 million over his firing. Sheen was axed after the seemingly endless media blitz in which he ripped Lorre and boasted about past drug use.

Tassler said "Men," television's top-rated comedy and top show in syndication, could lose ratings, and that "CSI" may slip as well as it again replaces its lead actor, this time with Ted Danson taking over for Laurence Fisburne, who replaced William Petersen. But she said she expects both to succeed.

"In time, certainly we're gonna do very well," she said.

She said Danson's "CSI" character, D.B. Russell, "has to really reconnect the team and bring them back together and still assert his authority, which he does do."