The world has been laughing at and/or with Charlie Sheen about his threats to sue CBS and the producers of Two and a Half Men. The Hollywood Reporter, however, says Sheen might have a legitimate case, mainly because his background of drug use, domestic violence and general nuttery was hardly a secret:
While showbiz legal experts say that referring to Lorre as a “clown” and a “retarded zombie” on television doesn’t help Sheen’s cause, many believe he has a decent case, especially if reports are true that his deal with WBTV includes no morals clause. The controversy, say the lawyers consulted byTHR, will hinge on which side breached the heavily negotiated contract that pays Sheen more than $1.2 million an episode.
Sheen’s lawyers believe that Warner Bros. and CBS violated their obligations by allowing Lorre to dictate that the show be shut down in the wake of Sheen’s outrageous statements and partying with porn stars. Sheen maintains he’s clean and sober and there’s nothing in his private life that would trigger a “default” under his contract. The legal arguments mirror a path that has proved successful for other entertainers who have been terminated for offensive comments.
Martin Gold, a litigator at SNR Denton in New York, says the situation reminds him of when CBS fired shock jock Don Imus after he made derogatory statements about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. CBS tried to avoid paying Imus on his contract, but it couldn’t get around the argument that the conglomerate got exactly what it had bargained for, signing extension after extension even though it knew Imus’ reputation.
Similarly, if the deal between WBTV and Sheen is “pay or play” — as Singer’s letter says it is — then Sheen will argue that bragging that he’s survived “banging seven-gram rocks” can’t be held against him. Indeed, Warners knew for years about Sheen’s behavior—including stints in rehab and an arrest on charges of attacking then-wife Brooke Mueller—but only acted after Sheen insulted Lorre, perhaps the studio’s top showrunner.
Gold says, “This was going on for a long time, so it can hardly be called a surprise.”
However, experts say CBS and Warner Bros. could have equally strong arguments that Sheen, not the network or studio, violated the contract. And if Sheen is found to have materially breached his deal, he could forfeit his rich deal and even be forced to reimburse CBS/WBTV for lost revenue, which could reach as much as $250 million if the show shuts down permanently.
Such a case would likely be premised on the notion that Sheen, despite his willingness to show up on set, has become such a high risk and has damaged so many relationships that continuing the show would not be possible. It’s no coincidence that the statement released by CBS and WBTV on Feb. 24 blamed the shutdown on “the totality of Charlie Sheen’s statements, conduct and condition.”
For the record, Two and a Half Men is in its eighth season, while Action was cancelled after six episodes. Not that I’m bitter or anything.