Could Sheen’s Problems Hurt Popular Sitcom?

What happens if Charlie Sheen is sentenced to prison?

That’s the question many fans of television’s most-watched sitcom, TWO AND A HALF MEN are asking. (Along with executives at the show in which Sheen stars and at CBS.)

Sheen faces felony charges in a Christmas incident in which police say he assaulted and threatened his wife. If convicted, Sheen faces up to three years in prison.  He’s due back in court next month.

The remainder of this season’s episodes, reports the Los Angeles Times isn’t a problem: producers are likely to be able to rearrange the shooting schedule to accomodate Sheen’s legal priorities.

But what happens if Sheen gets sent to the big house rather than the beach house in which his character resides?

CBS just renewed the show for three more seasons, through the 2011-12 season. Sheen, according to a 2008 TV Guide survey, is the highest-paid actor on TV, bringing home almost $20 million annually.

With Sheen’s character of Charlie Harper at the center of the show’s storylines, it’s hard to imagine the show surviving without him. Popular shows have temporarily written out top stars before, but with a difference.

During the fifth season of All in the Family, Archie Bunker was missing in action when actor Carroll O’Connor was having differences over money and the creative direction of the series. For a short stretch of episodes, Bunker disappeared while on the way to a lodge convention. Just when it appeared that the character might have met a deadly fate, he reappeared to a happy family just as O’Connor’s dispute had been settled.

During the third season of Sanford and Son , star Redd Foxx walked out in a dispute with producers. He was written out of several episodes that season, and his friend Grady, played by Whitman Mayo, was called in to look after the junkyard (and the “Son”) while Foxx’s character was said to be visiting family in St. Louis. When the dispute was settled, the trip to St. Louis was over and Fred was back.

But in each of those high-profile disappearances, the actor was missing in action for only part of a season. Not for up to three years.

Would Charlie meet with an untimely ending? Not likely. An extended stay in one sort of rehab or another? Seemingly hard to sustain for month after month. Canceling the series isn’t high on anyone’s list either, most likely, because despite Sheen’s salary, it continues to be such a ratings winner.

We’ll just have to stay tuned to see what happens next! In the meantime, you can catch the show on LIVE 5 WCSC weekdays at 4:30pm and 7:30pm, and new episodes at 9:00pm on Mondays.

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