So now CBS thinks Charlie Sheen has gone too far, as if they couldn’t have seen it coming.
Yesterday the network stopped production of Two and a Half Men for the rest of the season after Sheen gave two ranting interviews in which he spewed anti-Semitic attacks at his show’s creator, Chuck Lorre, and referred to him as Chaim Levine (Lorre was born Charles Levine). The anti-Semitism and the biting-the-hand-that-hired-him elements (“charlatan” was one of the nicer names he called his boss) might have been unexpected. The rest is pure show-biz hypocrisy.
Over the past weeks – and months and years – none of the hand-wringing and fretting and clucking about Sheen’s out-of-control behavior has made any honest sense. Not from CBS and the show’s production company, Warners Brothers, as they pretended to believe in Sheen’s rehab. Not from all the pundits who suddenly, supposedly, couldn’t fathom why the series’ ratings got better while Sheen’s behavior got worse. Of course the good ratings and bad behavior went together, because the show flourished on the very idea of Sheen’s worst self.
His character on the sitcom is simply a clean-enough-for-prime-time version of the coke-fueled, hooker-surrounded, police-bait actor. The character is even named Charlie, in case anyone might have missed that connection. The actor with the lurid reputation had always been lurking behind the sitcom’s innocuously womanizing bad-boy brother and uncle. The show – not a very good show, but less painful to watch than it sounds – played off what the audience knew about Sheen’s real-life problems and tastes, way back to his pre-CBS days with Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.
No wonder the ratings went up after he trashed a room at the Plaza Hotel last fall. In a world where real-life celebrity bleeds easily onto the screen, every fan of the series knew that the fictional Charlie Harper was that guy in the Plaza, had always been that guy.
There’s no excuse for Sheen’s anti-Semitism, of course, and we can all humanely wish for him to pull out of this tailspin. (No progress there. He reacted to being cut loose by telling TMZ that Lorre was “a contaminated little maggot.”) But it’s a little late for anyone at CBS to act appalled at his off-the-rails behavior. They knew exactly what they were buying when they hired him; they counted on it for years.
The background story, and audio of Sheen’s radio meltdown, are in this very objective news report from CBS’s own Early Show.