Brian Lowry

Charlie Sheen

For years, Chuck Lorre has chafed at what he sees as a lack of recognition and respect for his top-rated CBS comedy, "Two and a Half Men." As they say, be careful what you wish for. "Men" has yet to receive that elusive Emmy, but thanks to star Charlie Sheen, it is now -- in its eighth season, improbably -- a media darling.

Why, in just the last couple of weeks, public radio outlets, CNN and a national magazine have all called seeking my insights on the mercurial Sheen, whom I have met exactly once. The problem for Lorre is that people don't want to discuss the quality of "Men's" jokes, but the character of its contents -- specifically, Sheen, who has become the tabloid gift that keeps on giving, even dialing up a sports radio show, of all places, to vent about his situation.

For some reason, all of this strikes me as profoundly sad -- not for Lorre, who, as his vanity cards make clear, enjoys a certain us-against-the-world mentality, if only for its motivational value. And Sheen is hardly the first pampered celebrity to suffer from a mix of too much money and not enough self-control. No, the sadness stems from how predictably the media pounces on a story that has no real depth or greater significance to it, and then must fabricate news hooks to justify its interest in reporting on the porn stars and three-day parties associated with Sheen's antics.

One radio producer, for example, asked about the sordid history of studios covering up stars' misbehavior in order to continue commercially exploiting them, dating back to Judy Garland. Except it's not clear, in this case, who exactly is exploiting whom, what with Sheen going public to essentially taunt his employers. While the actor might see rainbows in weaker moments, I'm not sure the Garland analogy has much validity.

There is a business story here, inasmuch as "Two and a Half Men" is a hugely valuable franchise. Its continued viability has implications for both CBS, which relies on the show as the linchpin of its Monday lineup; and Warner Bros., which produces it. That said, there's no evidence Sheen's much-publicized excesses have alienated viewers. Ratings have remained high (even for reruns), and a Hollywood Reporter poll found "90 percent of 'avid fans' don't think drug and alcohol abuse problems matter as long as Sheen does a good job on the show."

That's terrific news, since I'm totally loaded as I write this. The poll story also referred to those results "surprising," which they really weren't, but I suppose once you've gone to the expense of conducting a survey, saying the results amounted to a big "Duh" isn't an option.

The other lesson here, so obvious it's easy to overlook, is how squeaky wheels get all the grease. Attracting more than 14 million viewers a week this far into its run and making everyone involved fabulously wealthy is old news at this point. It took Sheen's meltdowns to thrust this sitcom warhorse back into the media spotlight. So look, at least be honest about what's going on, and the sudden interest in "Men" -- and let Judy Garland rest in peace, for heaven's sake.

Basically, you want an excuse to wade into the same muck TMZ wallows in, gleefully, on a daily basis. More power to you. But don't try kidding a kidder -- or go overboard seeking to legitimize stooping to conquer. By the way, according to that aforementioned poll, 62 percent of respondents say the media should leave Sheen alone. This only demonstrates the public's hypocrisy when presented the opportunity to rifle through the trash (or hotel closets) of the rich and famous, since US Weekly and People don't read themselves.

Whether Sheen cleans himself up, in regard to the media leaving him alone, I can confidently predict there's a 100 percent chance that won't happen. As for "Men" belatedly receiving the attention Lorre sought, that only brings to mind George Carlin's joke about being inundated with flowers when you die: "They all arrive at once -- too late."






TV - Charlie Sheen the Tabloid Gift That Keeps on Giving