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Is Charlie Sheen Really Worth $2 Million Per Episode?

by Gary Susman, posted May 18th 2010 3:40PM
Charlie SheenSo, America's long national nightmare is over, and the nation's couch potatoes can rest easy knowing that, not only is Charlie Sheen going to remain on 'Two and a Half Men' for two more years, but he'll also continue to remain TV's highest paid actor, earning almost $2 million per episode, more than double what he makes now.

That's a lot of money for a guy with as much personal baggage as Charlie Sheen, enmeshed as he is in scandal that threatens to derail his show, not just because it may alienate viewers, but because he also faces potential jail time on felony charges stemming from the Christmas 2009 incident in which he allegedly threatened his wife with a knife.

Is it really worth so much trouble and the expense for CBS and 'Two and a Half Men' producer Warner Bros. Television to hold on to Sheen just for the sake of a sitcom that is currently wrapping its seventh season and can't have too many years of life left in it? Is Sheen really worth nearly $2 million per episode?

The short answer: Yes.

Granted, it's hard, at first glance, to see how the math can work in favor of CBS or WBTV. Besides more than doubling the $850,000 per episode salary of the man who's already the highest paid actor on TV, 'Men' also boasts the costliest child actor on TV. According to the New York Post, Angus T. Jones, who plays Jake, earns $250,000 per show, well above the per-episode fees of such tween cash machines as Miley Cyrus and Miranda Cosgrove.

Add Jones' fee and whatever Jon Cryer (who plays Alan) makes to Sheen's new salary of $1.8 to $1.9 million, and WBTV has already spent around $3 million per episode before a single scene is shot. Add another couple million in production costs, subtract the license fee that CBS pays for the show, and it looks like WBTV is losing money on each episode, losses that will be compounded by nearly $50 million over the next two years, given Sheen's $1 million-per-episode raise.

Still, WBTV will make it all back and then some in syndication, which is where the real money is in TV production. Just look at the lucrative deal struck for reruns of 'Men's' soon-to-be former timeslot follow-up, 'The Big Bang Theory'; according to The Wrap, it'll earn $1.5 million per episode when it airs on TBS and Fox-owned local stations. ('Big Bang' will move to Thursdays at 8PM next fall. See CBS' full schedule here.) Reruns of 'Men' are likely to be perennial popular favorites for years to come, providing a steady, long-term stream of income well after the show ceases production. Another two seasons, and 'Men' will pass 200 episodes, a nice round number that syndication packagers like.

jon_cryer_charlie_sheen_two_and_a_half_menMeantime, it remains the most-watched current sitcom on TV, averaging 14.7 million viewers this season. Up against unproven new dramas on NBC and Fox at 9PM on Mondays next fall, there's no reason to think the 'Men'/'Big Bang' hour won't continue to be a successful block for CBS and bring in plenty of commercial dollars during what is expected to be a rebounding ad market. Even if CBS were to pay a bigger license fee to WBTV to help defray the cost of Sheen's raise, it's worth it to the network - and to its sponsors - to have a guaranteed hit for another two years.

But is it worth paying so much money to Sheen if he continues to be a trouble magnet? It's true that Sheen is due in court in July to face charges of felony menacing, criminal mischief, and third degree assault stemming from the alleged knife-wielding incident. Still, it seems unlikely that Sheen would do serious time; he and wife Brooke Mueller are reportedly trying to patch things up, which would make her unlikely to testify against him, and his lawyers are reportedly hammering out a plea bargain for him.

So the case is more of a public relations challenge than a threat to the show's production schedule. It may be Sheen's most serious such challenge to date, but it's not like he hasn't been a walking PR nightmare for 20 years while still managing to excel at his day job.

Charlie_Two_and_A_Half_MenThat sort of scandal could repel viewers, except that 'Men' has always used Sheen's aura of disreputability to its own advantage. It's built into the Charlie Harper character; in fact, it's part of his louche appeal. So is Charlie Harper's seemingly miraculous failure to suffer any real consequences from his misbehavior. His teflon sheen, if you will, which drives his strait-laced brother Alan crazy and sets a bad example for nephew Jake, is the comic engine of the series. So the actor's ongoing real-life drama, incredibly enough, is likely only to help the show's bona fides, as it has for the last seven years.

And, like it or not, the show really can't be made without Sheen. You can't call it 'One and a Half Men.' You can't replace the Charlie Harper character with someone else and still keep the premise of Alan and his son living with Alan's playboy brother in the latter's Malibu beach house. Sheen is as indispensable to the show as Ray Romano was to 'Everybody Loves Raymond' and Kelsey Grammer was to 'Frasier,' which is why he can demand a salary in the ballpark of what those two actors were earning at similar points in their sitcoms' runs.

So Charlie Sheen is living the dream. Just ask Alec Baldwin, who made Sheen's success amid scandal the punchline of his 'Saturday Night Live' monologue over the weekend.

Baldwin seemed to be talking about himself - but wasn't - when he said, "Follow your dreams. They can take you to some amazing places. You know, 20 years ago, there was a young movie star living in Hollywood, but he wanted more. So he worked and he worked, and he dreamed and he dreamed. And yes, he had his share of setbacks, including a difficult, public divorce from a beautiful, complicated actress, but he never lost hope. His dreams came true. Because today that movie star is on a sitcom. And he is happy, happier than he has ever been. How do I know? Because, ladies and gentleman, that man... is Charlie Sheen."

Alec Baldwin on the 2010 season finale of 'Saturday Night Live'

[Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.]

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Hi. Is there such a thing as a Charlie Sheen violence timeline? Just curious.

February 26 2011 at 12:24 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Shannon B.

To those of you remarking what a ludicrous act it is to pay one man two million dollars per episode, you have to realize that it's all tied into supply and demand. The American audience only wants to watch two and a half men with Charlie Sheen, thus making him the ONE person in the whole world who can supply that demand. Furthermore, the networks make many, many millions, making it worth it to pay him that much. No one pays policemen or fire fighters millions because there are thousands and thousands of them. Move further up the scale to lawyers and doctors, which there are much much fewer possible applicants, and look how much they make. It's all about how much people are willing to spend on your skills or talents, and how many other people in the country can do that. Ala, Charlie Sheen, and the relatively few other superstars, actors, and entertainers, can get paid so much because they are in such a tiny pool of candidates in a field which generates billions of dollars. What they do with that money is at they're will alone. It shouldn't bother you what another man does with his money. Its foolish to say it could go to some starving village, etc, because if it was not going to Charlie Sheen it still wouldn't be going there. Why don't you use your own money for a better good, and not pass judgment on the salaries and acts of others?

September 28 2010 at 2:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shannon B.'s comment

Spoken truthfully, h8erz gon' gon h8. Charlie Sheen just hits the spot and is all around lively fun guy. Whether or not you agree with what he has done is entirely on the person...there are far more corrupt daily things going on.


April 24 2011 at 6:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Go Charlie man! I dont care what my fav. actor does in his private life.Americans even wants to know the poop quantity of celebs bloody suckers.If that shit oprah can make more than 150mn $ an year just by sitting cant Sheen make 100mn $.All the ladies whining about the show itz just cause it shows thier trueself.

September 12 2010 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh PLEEZE. Sheen has THREE acting behaviors.
1. Take a slug on a drink.
2. Squint.
3. Stare off into space.
All in that order.

Not worth 10 cents!!! I agree with Karen. Lose him.

May 29 2010 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess he needs that money for his defense along with his alimony payments yet again for another wife

May 24 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The show is amusing but it has crossed way over the line and is just nasty and embarassing. Why it is in family time I will never understand. As far as Charlie, he's cute enough but sure doesn't deserve the career he has. Should be held accountable for at least some level of decency in his personal life. He basically has just thumbed his nose at everyone, from his family to his bosses to his fans.

May 24 2010 at 2:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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