Sheen: The Financial Impact

Greg Gayne/Warner Bros.

With the star in rehab, who will take the biggest loss?

As Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen receives emergency treatment from an addiction specialist, attention has turned to the impact of his absence on the cast and crew of TV’s most-watched sitcom, as well as the effects on CBS and Warner Bros. Television, both of which have a lot to lose if the show’s temporary hiatus becomes permanent.

When a series goes on an unexpected break because of an actor’s “disability” — and industry sources speculate that WBTV can term Sheen’s absence a disability because he is entering medically supervised rehab — the studio has the right to suspend contracts of the other cast and crew.  

Under the applicable SAG contract, a cast-member disability that shuts down production is considered a force majeure, meaning the studio can suspend the other cast members at half pay for five weeks.

If filming still hasn’t resumed after five weeks, “the employer must either resume payment of full salary to the performer or terminate the performer’s employment contract,” according to SAG.

Sheen will likely spend anywhere from one to three months in rehab, jeopardizing production of as many as eight episodes of Season 8 of Men. Sources tell THR that if Sheen returns to the show within a month, only a couple of episodes would be lost. If the delay lasts longer than five weeks, his co-stars have the right to ask to be released from their contracts.

“But on a show like Men, on which everyone has a very sweet gig,” one source says, “that is unlikely.”

In addition, the studio might choose to continue to pay some of the crew voluntarily to keep them happy and prevent them from taking other jobs. (Generally, actors, writers and directors are paid on an “all episodes produced” basis.)

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WBTV and CBS declined comment about their plans for the crew beyond a statement saying, “We are evaluating and hope to reach a decision soon.”

Losses incurred by the studio if it does continue to pay the cast and crew could be covered by insurance — if the studio has insurance. Sheen’s wild behavior, which prompted a temporary shutdown of production last year for another stint in rehab, might have made insurance tough to get, sources say.

Of course, if Men were to shut down permanently — no one is suggesting that it will — the stoppage could jeopardize as much as $250 million in domestic syndication revenue for WBTV, which has already packaged the eighth and ninth seasons into current deals. For CBS, millions more in lost ad revenue is at stake.

Men is the most popular comedy on television, averaging 14.7 million viewers, second only to ABC’s Modern Family among 18- to 49-year-olds. CBS pays Warners $4 million an episode and sells 30-second spots in Men for more than $200,000, according to media buyers. Kantar Media reports that the show grossed CBS more than $155 million in ad revenue last season alone.

Men is also the network’s linchpin on Monday nights, helping to launch successful comedies including The Big Bang Theory and most recently Mike & Molly (both from Men co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre). Two new episodes of Men will air on Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 (the first is fittingly titled “Three Hookers and a Philly Cheesesteak”), but after that, CBS is taking steps to shore up its schedule.

It has ordered two extra episodes of Monday sitcoms Mike & Molly and Rules of Engagement to help cope with scheduling issues (though CBS can cancel the orders if Sheen returns soon). Men repeats also fare much better than typical shows, prompting CBS to downplay the impact of the hiatus.

“Looking forward, the financial impact of the shutdown is not material to CBS,” the network said. “Any ratings declines will be more than offset by the reduced programming costs for episodes lost this season. The network is strong and deep with hit series; we’re not reliant on one show.”             

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