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Ashton Kutcher may be good business for 'Two and a Half Men'

He brings a hip vibe to the CBS sitcom, which likely will see a spike in ratings at the beginning of the new season.

May 14, 2011|By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times
  • Ashton Kutcher will join CBS' "Two and a Half Men."
Ashton Kutcher will join CBS' "Two and a Half Men." (Evan Agostini, Associated…)

Charlie Sheen wasted little time letting the world know what he thinks of Ashton Kutcher replacing him on "Two and a Half Men."

"Enjoy the show, America," Sheen told the website TMZ on Friday, when CBS and Warner Bros. confirmed earlier reports that Kutcher would join TV's No. 1 comedy. The ousted star added sarcastically that his bosses could "enjoy a 2.0 rating in the [adults ages 18 to 49] demo every Monday" — or less than what episodes with Sheen have done in repeats.

Whether Sheen's prediction proves accurate, with Kutcher on board CBS has helped steady its future after months of high-wire jockeying over "Men." Earlier this year, Warners dumped Sheen after the hard-partying star was forced to enter a lengthy drug rehab and publicly excoriated his bosses. Executives clinched the Kutcher deal — which came right after reports of an unsuccessful dalliance with British star Hugh Grant — with only days to spare: CBS is due to unveil its fall schedule to advertisers in New York on Wednesday.

At 33, Kutcher is more than a decade younger than Sheen and, in one measure of his appeal among young people, has more than 6.6 million Twitter followers, or about twice as many as Sheen. He retains a fan base from his eight years playing the good-looking, dimwitted Michael on Fox's sitcom "That '70s Show" and has been an active producer ("Punk'd"). But his film track record has been mixed, with stoner comedies such as "Dude, Where's My Car?" evolving into an effort to remold himself as a romantic-comedy leading man.

"It will not be easy because of the popularity of Charlie Sheen over the past eight years," said Brad Adgate of ad firm Horizon Media. "Ashton Kutcher has never headlined a TV show before and these are big shoes to fill."

CBS provided few details about how "Men" will be reconfigured, other than that Kutcher will be costarring alongside Jon Cryer, who plays the uptight Alan, and Angus T. Jones, who plays Alan's teenage son. It's unclear how the producers will explain the absence of Charlie Harper (Sheen), who was Alan's wisecracking playboy brother on the show, or exactly what relationship Kutcher's character will have to the others.

CBS did confirm that it ordered a full season of the sitcom, and that it will likely be scheduled in its customary 9 p.m. Monday time slot. Through representatives, CBS and Warners declined to elaborate beyond their prepared statements.

Kutcher sounded a note of guileless exuberance that was at odds with Sheen's aggrieved irony. "I can't replace Charlie Sheen," Kutcher said in the statement, "but I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people!"

Most TV veterans expect the ninth-season premiere of "Men" to deliver huge ratings, with fans and curiosity-seekers turning out. What happens after that, though, is what really matters.

Hit TV comedies that lose their stars have had mixed results. After John Ritter died at the start of Season 2 of ABC's "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," the series staggered through a difficult season and a half before cancellation. But Sheen himself successfully replaced Michael J. Fox on "Spin City." "Cheers" also thrived through some major cast changes — including the exit of Shelley Long and the arrival of Kirstie Alley — although as an ensemble sitcom it was less dependent on one performer.

No matter how "Men" performs, however, it's clear that Kutcher and his new bosses need each other right now. One early report pegged the star's salary at $1 million per episode, or slightly below what Sheen was reportedly making. But one agent not involved in the deal said the true amount was likely half that or less, given the career challenges Kutcher has faced lately, including the short-lived "Game Show in My Head" on CBS.

Kutcher's representatives at CAA did not return a call and email seeking comment.

To stay America's most-watched network, CBS needs to regain its footing on Monday nights. The network has paid dearly for the Sheen escapades: Earlier this week, another "Men" repeat helped drive down ratings for other Monday comedies to record lows.

"Men" might be even more important for Warners, which produces and owns the rights to the show. Reruns air in syndication on 198 stations nationwide.

"It's been the most successful sitcom in recent syndication," said Bill Carroll of the New York firm Katz Media, which represents and advises local TV stations. "It continues to be No. 1 among syndicated sitcoms in every rating period since it's been on the air."

If the studio had not found a replacement for Sheen, the first, seven-year-long round of syndication would have ended in December 2013 — months before planned — and the studio would likely have lost tens of millions of dollars in license-fee income and bartered advertising sales.

All that probably made a Kutcher deal sound good to executives — no matter what Sheen and other critics might say.

"It's worth a shot to try," Adgate said. "It will be easy to see if it's working relatively quickly."

scott.collins@latimes.com

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