So maybe it’s time we asked: Is there some sort of curse on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”?
Because it’s hard to watch the recent, rapid public-relations meltdown of Ashton Kutcher — or, as he’s known to more than 8.2 million Twitter followers, @aplusk — and not wonder if replacing Charlie Sheen on a hit TV show isn’t the celebrity equivalent of flying too close to the sun on a pair of waxy wings.
Sheen, undeniably, was more than a little bit broken before CBS landed him, and indeed part of the show’s success from the beginning lay in Chuck Lorre’s ability to harness the more appealing aspects of his star’s tragically flawed character.
Who, after all, doesn’t love a bad boy?
But even bad boys can go too far, as Sheen eventually did — the powers that be at CBS and Warner Bros. who’d managed to ride with the drugs and the domestic violence appear to have drawn the line when the actor began spewing venom about Lorre — and the search began for a star who wouldn’t have to spend so much time standing next to furniture to make it through his scenes.
CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler was probably also looking forward to the end of the semiannual ritual in which she’d stand before members of the Television Critics Association and defend the continued employment of Sheen in light of whatever his recent outrage had been.
Which is why it was all the more surprising when CBS didn’t bother to bring Kutcher in to meet with reporters during the TCA meetings this past summer. And when I asked Tassler why — especially since the network had trotted out Ted Danson, the new guy on “CSI” — her answer struck many of us as, well, odd, and even weirdly unrehearsed, almost as if she hadn’t expected an obvious question:
“The problem is they are in production. There’s a tremendous amount of energy and focus and attention. I mean, I would be lying if I didn’t say when everybody walked on that set on Monday, you could cut the air with knife. It’s a very — it’s a very focused, requires a lot of attention. I think nobody wanted to for one second and don’t forget, you’ve got your blocking. You’ve got your run-through. You’ve got your rewrites. You’ve got a tremendous amount of weight and effort being put into this episode.”
Kutcher, a sitcom veteran — did they not have blocking on “That ’70s Show”? — isn’t, despite what you might have read lately in his own words, an idiot. He could’ve handled a press conference fine, and certainly would have provided a contrast to some of Sheen’s recent interviews.
Seemingly happily married at the time, with a public image that was more playful than predatory, he also appeared to be a guy not likely to keep studio and network suits up nights.
And maybe they’re not losing any sleep over reports of his marital troubles — if domestic bliss were a TV job requirement, we’d probably be down to one or two channels — but then there’s the Joe Paterno thing.
In the wake of the Penn State coach’s firing, Kutcher reportedly tweeted to his millions of followers: “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste” (and I say reportedly because I’ve never bothered to follow the guy and he’s since taken down the tweet, though not before it was retweeted by well, just about everyone).
Kutcher’s subsequent explanation, which you can find here, suggests one of the problems many of us wrestle with on Twitter, a medium that makes it easy to speak before we’ve thought, much less researched. He says he “walked by the television and simply saw a headline that Joe Paterno had been fired. Having no more information than that, I assumed that he had been fired due to poor performance as an aging coach.”
To say Kutcher caught hell for posting something that appeared to place more importance on a football coach’s keeping his job than on the welfare of sexually abused children would be putting it mildly.
His solution — to turn “management” of his Twitter feed over to Katalyst Media (a company he, by the way, co-founded) — is bound to annoy people who follow celebrities on Twitter for just the kind of unfiltered ramblings Kutcher helped make popular.
Here’s one response, for instance, on Gizmodo, “Ashton Kutcher Is a Cowardly Quitter.”
I’m reading Kutcher’s action, though, as a sign that though “Two and Half Men’s” ratings may have dropped from the beginning of the season, when curiousity drove millions more than usual to check out the new guy, CBS’ Bad Boy 2.0 project is still viable.
Because while the guy who replaced Charlie might be far from perfect, he at least knows how — and when — to say he’s sorry.