Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men, and the Hollywood Machine
Charlie Sheen's decision this afternoon to enter an undisclosed rehab facility has for now put an end to the troubled star's latest scandal, but it also raises questions about how long it took for anyone to accept responsibility for Sheen's actions, which have in the past put both his life and others' lives at risk.
Gallery: Charlie Sheen's Self-Help Manual
No stranger to generating headlines, Sheen's latest escapade involved a trip to the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai following intense abdominal pain, what one woman who was there alleged was a suitcase full of cocaine, and a bevy of porn stars, all of which had the television industry awaiting the latest twist in this sordid story.
For now, this story will end, as it often does, with an act of contrition, as Sheen enters a rehab facility. It is his second stint in the past year.
"Rehab is Hollywood's version of Catholic confession," said one executive producer, speaking to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. "Do whatever you want and the slate is wiped clean with rehab."
The official line went like this: "He is most grateful to all who have expressed their concern," wrote Charlie Sheen's spokesperson, Stan Rosenfield, in a statement on Friday. "Mr. Sheen asks that his privacy be respected at this time and that no additional information will be provided."
In turn, CBS and studio Warner Bros. Television announced a production hiatus on Sheen's CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. "Due to Charlie Sheen's decision to enter a rehabilitation center, CBS, Warner Bros. Television and Executive Producer Chuck Lorre are placing Two and a Half Men on production hiatus," read an official joint statement. "We are profoundly concerned for his health and well-being, and support his decision."
Many in Hollywood have been shocked by how long it took for something to be done about Sheen's antics, which range from the 1990 accidental shooting of then-fiancée Kelly Preston, the 1996 assault charge against porn star Brittany Ashland (for which he pleaded "no contest") and his entanglement in Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss' little black book scandal, the recent trashing of a hotel room at New York's Plaza Hotel, and that 911 call from his then-wife Brooke Mueller in December 2009 in which she alleged that he had threatened her with a knife.
But Sheen, it seems, continued to show up for work on Two and a Half Men and act in a professional manner, and the studio and network seemed powerless to intervene in the star's careening ways. (Even his Two and a Half Men co-star Jon Cryer joked to Conan O'Brien this week that he often checked TMZ each morning to see if he should be turning up for work.)
A well-known showrunner—who wished to remain unnamed, as did everyone contacted—indicated that there's a vicious cycle to these situations, one that's created and maintained by the system itself, in which the producers, the studio, and the network become responsible for keeping the machine's cogs well-oiled.
“In situations like this, showrunners have no choice but to enable actors who are behaving self destructively,” a well-known writer/producer told The Daily Beast.
"In situations like this, showrunners have no choice but to enable actors who are behaving self-destructively," wrote this person in an email to The Daily Beast. "At the end of the day, our obligation is not just to the huge corporations that demand fresh product from us and the audiences who want to watch it, but to the 500 or so people who won't get paid unless that actor shows up to set. At the end of the day, the golden rule is 'Keep making episodes, NEVER shut down' and we are beholden to that more than anything else."
"Do showrunners CARE about their talent? Of course they do," the showrunner added. "As long as they come to work."
Another writer/producer echoed the same dilemma, writing: "I can only imagine the pressures on the producers of a hit show to keep delivering the hit show. While everyone wants to do the right thing, and be ethical and good people, I'm sure it's pretty hard, when the guy shows up and delivers his lines, to pull that lever and stop the whole machine."
These are brutally honest evaluation of the steps that led us and Charlie Sheen here, where the need to perhaps save his life finally outweighs the financial implications that come from shutting down Two and a Half Men in the middle of the season.
And there is disagreement in the creative community about how the situation was handled.
"I would not continue to fund this decline," said one writer/producer. "I'd hold the role open during rehab, but if rehab was declined, I'd have to write him out."
A fourth showrunner felt that, even with the current system operating as it is, there are certain legal and moral considerations that should be taken into account.
"Can you just sit back and watch someone spiral toward what could very well be death?" he asked. "Is work the only thing that is keeping Charlie Sheen alive? Do the people he works for and with know this? In that case, they might feel that stopping production without Sheen in rehab or getting help would be the tipping point."
Reached again later in the day, after Sheen had been admitted to rehab, he added, "Him going to rehab is an excellent route in a large number of horrible alternatives."
Still, that's not quite the perspective that our first anonymous showrunner has. He doesn't believe that CBS and WBTV will ever opt to write Sheen out of the show and wonders just how effective this rehabilitation will be in the long-term.
"Charlie's stint at rehab (and it will be a stint, not the year it should be) is probably more a PR move or an insurance issue than it is a legitimate desire of the Powers That Be behind the show for him to get healthy," he said. "If they cared about his health, they'd fire him. But firing him puts the show in jeopardy, jobs in jeopardy, and millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in jeopardy. So it's not going to happen."
Jace Lacob is The Daily Beast's TV columnist. As a freelance writer, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, TV Week, and others. Jace is the founder of television criticism and analysis website Televisionary and can be found on Twitter. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.