How Do You Replace Your Leading Man, Anyway?
Sheen, as everyone knows by now, has been fired from Two and a Half Men, and the common consensus is that the show will return next year with another actor replacing him. But, for once, Sheen brings up a good point:
Do you have [co-creator/executive producer] Chuck [Lorre], that silly sad troll, talk in the camera and say, ‘Here’s what happened,’ and then Rob Lowe comes out? Or do they just do it, without explaining it, and hope no one notices?
Historically, of course, television shows have tended towards the latter of those two options – Hello, Darren 1 and Darren 2 from Bewitched! – with a tendency in more recent years to drop in snarky asides in dialogue to acknowledge the difference (“I feel like a new man today!” or “Something’s different about you. Have you changed your hair?” to suggest just two options; I know, I know – I could work in network television), as if having cake and eating it is somehow anything other than just annoying. It’s an odd choice, as if ignoring the issue somehow makes it not matter, but one that’s occasionally necessary: How many people could imagine an episode of a sitcom where the producer comes out and says “So, Actor X wanted a payrise and we didn’t want to give it to him. Welcome Actor Y to our show!” to applause and laughter?
That said, the Sheen situation isn’t something that Men can really avoid without looking as if it’s patronizing its viewers. Some way or another, it has to be addressed. Should Lorre (or Jon Cryer, the poor other lead of the show who’s pretty much been screwed by recent events?) open the still-hypothetical next season with a humble “You know what happened, and so here’s the deal” introduction to Sheen’s replacement? Should Charlie, Sheen’s character on the show, be written out entirely and replaced by an all-new character, allowing the show to actually deal with the loss in story (It would make the introduction of a new actor easier, but it’d be a dangerous move, altering the concept behind the show and the dynamic between the characters)? Is there any good way for the show to deal with this situation?
There are many reasons for CBS and Warner Bros. to try to keep Two and a Half Men alive for another season – not least of all the money to be made from another year of what was television’s most popular show, or the contracts that exist requiring another season – but the more I try to imagine what it means to lose one of the leads, and in such a public way, the more I become convinced that it’s a no-win situation for everyone involved. What’s the best way to replace an actor in a television show? In this case, maybe the answer is, you don’t.