Producer Chuck Lorre shines on as "Two and a Half Men" goes dark
By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Feb. 18, 2015
BURBANK, Calif. — CBS’s long-running “Two and a Half Men” comes to an end with back-to-back episodes this week (9 p.m. Thursday, KDKA-TV) and with it one of the oddest behind-the-scenes soap operas in TV history.
In 2011, following years of bad behavior, the sitcom’s original star, Charlie Sheen, went on a tirade against the show’s executive producer, Chuck Lorre. Production on the show was shut down for months, and Mr. Sheen was eventually dropped from the series. His character, Charlie Harper, was “killed off” when season nine began in September 2011, and Ashton Kutcher joined the cast as Walden Schmidt and the show continued, although its ratings began to drop.
Now it appears all has been forgiven. CBS hasn’t released much information about the series finale, but the title of the episode is “Of Course He’s Dead — Part One and Part Two,” the logline asks, “Charlie Harper is alive. Or is he?” and the network promises “surprise guest stars will appear.”
In addition, at a January press conference, Mr. Lorre, had only kind words for Mr. Sheen, because, you know, this is how Hollywood rolls.
“It would be inappropriate here to not acknowledge the extraordinary success we had with Charlie and how grateful I am, and we all are, to his contribution,” said Mr. Lorre, whom Mr. Sheen once called a “maggot.” “And there's nothing but good feelings for the 8½ years we worked together. But how to wrap the show up, it's tricky. It's a sticky wicket. Because, in a way, the show morphed into something else entirely for the last four years, and it's something we love, and we want to honor both. So, how to honor both has been the challenge of this finale. And the other challenge is how to get people watching it without telling them what it is.”
Also, Mr. Sheen has been quiet on this subject, and one suspects if he was not invited back, he would have vented his spleen all over Twitter by now. If Mr. Sheen is not in the finale, it will be a shock — and an unforgivable tease on the part of CBS.
Whatever happens when the sun sets on 12 seasons of “Two and a Half Men,” it probably won’t affect Mr. Lorre, who is the most successful comedy producer on television thanks to his role executive producing CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” rising ratings for critically acclaimed sophomore CBS comedy “Mom” and still-hanging-in-there CBS sitcom “Mike & Molly,” starring Swissvale native Billy Gardell.
Why do Mr. Lorre’s comedies succeed when so many sitcoms fail these days? Despite their sometimes raunchy humor, they work because at the heart of each is a family of sorts, said Mr. Kutcher.
“They’re all built on these obscure, broken, beat up, messed up families that are just like yours,” Mr. Kutcher said at a press conference about Mr. Lorre’s shows on the Warner Bros. lot last month. “And I think that Chuck works with people that understand that that works, and that's extraordinarily relatable. Even if it’s two straight guys acting like gay guys so they can adopt a kid; that’s a family. If it’s a bunch of kids in a dorm room talking about physics, that's a family. … Ultimately, you sit at home and you laugh at yourself.”
Squirrel Hill native James Widdoes directed more episodes of “Men” than anyone, including the series finale, which taped Feb. 6.
“Taste in comedy is so subjective, but there are notes in Chuck’s sense of humor that hit very deeply in a lot of people,” Mr. Widdoes said in a recent phone interview. “Chuck takes by and large not perfect people and has you root for them.”
He also credits CBS for its support.
“The run on CBS is directly attributable to CBS’s appetite for and ability to connect its viewers with this genre,” Mr. Widdoes said. “They’ve been so supportive of it schedule-wise and that hasn’t wavered.”
Bill Prady, co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory,” chalks Mr. Lorre’s success up to liking the shows he produces.
“People are often making something with the idea that those people who watch it will like it,” Mr. Prady said. “He makes stuff that he genuinely, personally enjoys, and he likes the jokes and laughs at them, and he is moved by the moving scenes, and I think that that makes a difference.”
Aside from “Two and a Half Men,” which is set in Malibu, Mr. Lorre’s shows are decidedly middle class while TV comedies are often about the upper-middle class (see: ABC’s “Modern Family”). He attributes that to being a struggling musician until age 35.
“I remember vividly what it's like to put 38 cents in the gas tank and drive to your second cousin's house so they feed you,” he said. “And how humiliating and hard that is, and how hard it is when you can’t cover the rent and stuff.
“Making the rent is very much an element on ‘Mom,’” he said. “‘Two and a Half Men’ was very much a magical show. There were no STDs and no alcoholism; it was a make-a-wish kind of show. And that's not how the real world works, we knew that, but we hoped that we could find some way to make people laugh even inside that.”
Mr. Widdoes said “Men” really breaks into two comedic sensibilities: the Charlie Harper years and the Walden Schmidt era.
“There was an enormous, loyal and large fan base for the show when Charlie was in it and when Charlie went away … we had this extraordinary opportunity to bring Ashton in, who was such a ray of sunshine and goodness and a very different comedic style,” he said. “People will come up to me and say, ‘I gotta be honest, I liked it with Charlie better,’ but then other people say, ‘I liked it so much better with Ashton.’ They were different comedic voices, and I know we hunted for it in the first year or two to find what that was going to be, but, boy, we sure did have fun finding it.”
‘Two and a Half Men’
When: 9 p.m. Thursday, CBS.