The drama surrounding Charlie Sheen’s Two and a Half Men deal played out like the world’s most predictable movie.
Last night, at the 11th hour, Charlie Sheen agreed to return to CBS’ Monday night hit, Two and a Half Men, for two more years for nearly $2 million an episode, as TMZ was first to report. (Note that both TMZ and Two and a Half Men are both produced by Warner Bros.) That deal will net Charlie nearly $100 million over the next two years, and he’s already made more than $100 million starring on the show for the past seven years at a reported salary of $850,000 an episode.
Reporting this story as if Charlie was ever going to leave the cash-cow that is Two and a Half Men was always a gambit for headlines – which is the norm in today’s minute-to-minute media world – or, less likely, incredibly naive. Charlie has legal troubles to spare, likely a soon-to-be third ex-wife, and four children (he also has a fifth daughter, Cassandra, 26, from an early relationship) to support. He’s been extraordinarily fortunate in that the business of playing himself has paid off handsomely, and with his new deal, he’ll become the highest-paid star in TV history. He will definitely become the highest-paid TV star currently on the air – only Ray Romano earned as much in his last year on Everybody Loves Raymond, another syndication blockbuster, according to Variety.
Whether another studio will want to get back into the messy and expensive Charlie Sheen business once Two and a Half Men ends is questionable. Sitcom lightning rarely strikes twice – Kelsey Grammer, another of TV’s highest-paid stars, lucked out with Cheers and Frasier but since Frasier’s 2004 end, Grammer has struck out three times: with Fox’s The Sketch Show in 2005, Fox’s Back to You in 2007 and this year’s Hank on ABC. For all of those reasons, Charlie was never, ever going to walk away from Two and a Half Men, TV’s most-watched comedy. Saying you aren’t going to return is the oldest negotiating ploy in the book, but it was never going to happen.
The only question that was really ever on the table was how far Charlie’s management team could get Warner Bros. to pay to keep him on. The truth is that without Charlie there is no Two and a Half Men. Considering that the show is earning at least $4 million an episode in its first cycle of syndication and will ultimately reap at least $1 billion in gross revenues for Warner Bros., Charlie is worth a lot to the studio. Earnings from a top earner like Two and a Half Men power a studio like Warner Bros., which, once it’s done covering its deficits on the show and paying producers, uses the profits to fund other development.
And compared to Friends’ six cast members, who ultimately together asked for $1 million each per episode and got it, Charlie’s a bargain. Jon Cryer and Angus Jones, who represent the show’s other 1 ½ Men, make far less than Sheen. Cryer reportedly will earn $20 million over the next two seasons, less than $500,000 per episode, and Jones, just 16, earns $250,000 an episode.