Friday, March 21, 2014

Replaceable You: Saying Goodbye to One and a Half Men

The hit CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men has been with us (God help us!) for more than a decade. Originally it was a raunchy odd-couple story about an uptight chiropractor (Jon Cryer) who got divorced and moved into the swinging Malibu beach pad of his jingle-writing brother (Charlie Sheen). The twist was that Cryer brought a young son (Angus T. Jones) to the relationship. Hence the series’ title. As the whole world knows by now, Sheen flipped out in early 2011, making nasty statements about series creator Chuck Lorre, and earning himself a million headlines, a trip to rehab, and a pink slip.

But a hit is a hit, and so Lorre and company opened season nine by orchestrating a colorful off-camera death for  Sheen’s character and providing Cryer with a new roommate, played by Ashton Kutcher. The show’s popularity continued. Still, all was not well in CBS-land. Young Angus T. Jones had debuted on the show at age 10. By age 17, he’d become the highest paid child star in television, earning $7.8 million over the course of two seasons. Then in 2012 came his loud (OK, strident) pronouncement that he’d found God. The new God-fearing Jones decried Two and a Half Men as “filth,” labeled himself a “paid hypocrite” for his role in it, and warned audiences not to watch. It’s obvious what had to happen next. Jones’ character joined the U.S. Army and vanished into the distance.   

Wait! – wasn’t that pretty much what happened to Richie Cunningham when Ron Howard decided to leave Happy Days? Except, of course, that Richie was sent to Greenland, not Japan, and returned for the occasional Very Special Episode.

In any case, Two and a Half Men now has a new member of the younger generation. She’s Amber Tamblyn, playing a previous unacknowledged daughter of the Charlie Sheen character. And she’s a lesbian. Does that make her a half man, perhaps?

Creators of hit series are well aware that the actors playing popular characters may not want to stick around forever. But it takes some ingenuity to figure out what to do. The family sitcom My Three Sons faced a stumbling block when eldest son Tim Considine left the series. Solution: #2 son Don Grady was moved up to #1, and dad Fred MacMurray adopted a younger boy to give him the requisite number of offspring.    

Then there was M*A*S*H, both an hilarious comedy and a serious meditation on the perils of warfare. The show, set in a medical unit during the Korean War, was on the air so long (1973-1983) that personnel changes were inevitable. Still, those in charge worked hard to maintain the interpersonal dynamics that made the series a hit. In the early days, the tent-mate and nemesis of Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) was Larry Linville’s incompetent Captain Frank Burns. When Linville moved on, he was replaced by David Ogden Stiers’ Major Charles Winchester, which made Hawkeye’s chief antagonist no longer a nincompoop but rather a highly intelligent snob. Another important cast change came when McLean Stevenson chose to no longer play the local commander, goofy Lt. Colonel Henry Blake. His replacement, down-to-earth Henry Morgan, more than adequately filled the bill. But fans of the show will never forget Stevenson’s final episode. Through most of it was filled with pranks and warm goodbyes, the tag ending startled viewers (and cast members, I’m told) with the news that Henry Blake’s transport plane had been shot down over the Sea of Japan, and that there were no survivors. That’s one way to ensure there’ll be no return visits.      


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  2. A great read, Beverly. Some of the most interesting were when someone who one might think to be irreplaceable left a series, yet the series still soldiered on. Valerie Harper's leaving "Valerie", for example. The show then became "Valerie's Family" and finally "The Hogan Family". If memory serves, it went on much longer without her. Funnily enough the photo on imdb about the show lists it by its original title, but Ms.Harper is nowhere to be found. Another saw Kotter (Gabe Kaplan) leave "Welcome Back Kotter"...yet the show carried on without him focusing on the (Also, Travolta-less Sweathogs). Yet again..."The Dukes of Hazard" lost its Dukes of Hazard when Tom Wopat and John Schneider decided they were worth more money. The producers responded by replacing Bo and Luke with their look alike cousins Coy and Vance. A few years later when the original Duke boys returned with their tails between their legs, the show now had two extras characters they didn't really know what to do with.

    Then, of course, there was the time Bobby came out of the shower...

  3. I'm surprised you didn't bring up soap operas at all ... lots of cast changes there!

  4. Thanks for dropping by, Dave. You've obviously spent even more time in front of the Tube than I have. I hope you visit Movieland again. Always good to hear from you, Hilary. Maybe you can chime in about soap operas, but personally I avoid them!

  5. We had added 2 1/2 Men back to our watching roster when Kutcher came aboard. Now a season or so later my wife just advised the show was well over the shark and she was done. I just cleared a couple of percentage points in the DVR Huzzah!

    Dave makes some good points about the "replacement" Dukes of Hazzard. But it was a mere 18 episodes for Coy and Vance - as the ratings continued to slip - CBS's contention that "the car was the star" was obviously not the case - and the negotiations with the otiginal stars - a cut of merchandising profits - suddenly found a breakthrough. As the original stars prepared to return, their replacements were told "you guys are staying! We'll be able to do a lot with four Duke boys!" What really happened - as Schneider and Wopat pull up to Uncle Jesse's farm - a sporty muscle car pulls away - with waves from hands sticking out of the driver's and passenger's sides. No staying around. No goodbye dialogue. In fact, Byron and Cherry had already been shown the door - that last shot of them - photo doubles in the car - waving as they drove away for good. The series continued for the rest of that season and two more with the original Dukes back on the job.

  6. Let me amend a bit - No goodbye dialogue. In fact, Byron Cherry and the late Christopher Mayer had already been shown the door -

    And Charlie Sheen ended up receiving a rumored 25 million dollar payout for the remainder of his contract - along with that pink slip. After a widely publicized stage show rant tour that petered out after a few dates - Charlie Sheen ambled over to the F/X network and worked with them to develop a TV version of the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson movie Anger Management - turning it into essentially a 2 1/2 Men clone that was given a guaranteed 100 episode pickup order. This guy could fall into manure and come out smelling like a rose!