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Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre lock horns over 'Two and a Half Men'

The fate of CBS' top-rated sitcom rides on a poisonous relationship between a leading actor and a star producer.

February 26, 2011|By Scott Collins and Melissa Maerz, Los Angeles Times

Lorre's acerbic personality has fired at other targets too. He is famous in the industry for "vanity cards" that contain long messages and flash at the end of his shows' episodes. On one card, Lorre once wrote that critics are so jealous of him, they would probably "eat a hole through their loved ones and crawl through it if it meant they could get my job.'"

Lorre and Sheen were not known as antagonists until now. But that may have started to change when Lorre produced a vanity card that seemed to take a backhanded swipe at his star's foibles by noting, "If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I'm gonna be really pissed." Although Sheen reportedly shrugged off the joke, the wisecrack marked a turnabout from Lorre's former steadfast public support of Sheen during his divorce from actress Denise Richards and previous drug problems.

In one of his public rants this week, Sheen referred to Lorre as "Chaim Levine," the Hebrew translation of the executive producer's birth name, Charles Levine. Denying that it was intended as a slur against Jews, Sheen told TMZ, "I wanted to address the man," as opposed to the fake TV persona. Sheen took issue with the idea that his words were anti-Semitic: "So you're telling me, anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez" — Sheen's birth name — "I can claim they are anti-Latino?"

"When I read that, it did make me stop and think," said Amanda Susskind, regional director for the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League. "We don't know what he really meant by it. But we're concerned that, in the midst of a negative tirade, he's making an irrelevant reference to the guy's Jewishness. If someone was calling [Sheen] a 'maggot' and saying his real name was Carlos Estevez, then yes, that would be conceived as anti-Latino. It's all about the context."

In a Fox Sports Radio interview Friday with Pat O'Brien, Sheen said of Lorre and co-creator Lee Arohnson: "These guys are a couple of AA Nazis and just blatant hypocrites.... They just do not practice what they preach; it's so transparent and so sad."

What happens next is unclear. Warner Bros. executives continue to monitor Sheen's increasingly frequent outbursts. But doubts are growing that CBS will take a chance on ordering another season of "Two and a Half Men" for next fall given the current crisis.

Meanwhile, Sheen, whose contract with the studio extends through next season, seems to be gearing up for a massive legal battle.

"We are at war," the star told O'Brien on Friday. "Defeat is not an option. They know what they did was wrong. They are in absolute breach [of contract]. I did nothing wrong. I expressed an opinion, I have the 1st Amendment, and I have an army marching behind me, to quote Eminem."

"I put a billion dollars in the studio's pockets and I put half a billion dollars in Chuck's pocket. So this is the frickin' thanks I get?," he added. "If people want me to succeed, they should find the most comfortable chair in their frickin' house and lean back, open a beer and watch the show, because it's about to get really gnarly."

scott.collins@latimes.com

melissa.maerz@latimes.com

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