U.S. Cast Changes Ripple Abroad
Overseas buyers approve of Kutcher on "Two and a Half Men," but Danson on "CSI?" That case is far from closed.
Europeans will return from their long summer vacations to find some new faces on their favorite shows. Three of the biggest U.S. series internationally -- Two and a Half Men, CSI and Law & Order: SVU -- have had casting overhauls: Ashton Kutcher replaced unstable warlock Charlie Sheen on Chuck Lorre's sitcom; Ted Danson bumped Laurence Fishburne as CSI's top forensic investigator; and Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish pick up shifts left vacant by SVU veteran Christopher Meloni (Mariska Hargitay remains).
What this means to the bottom line is hard to say, but SVU alone is licensed in more than 220 territories, so it's safe to say there is plenty at stake.
Kutcher and Men might be facing the biggest challenge overseas. U.S. comedies are traditionally a tough sell to international audiences, so when broadcasters find one that works, they don't want to give it up. They were sweating when Sheen's meltdown sent Lorre scrambling for a replacement, but most were relieved when it was Kutcher who signed up.
"He's got sitcom experience and a huge online fan base," Jurgen Horner, managing director of ProSieben, which airs Men in Germany, says of Kutcher. "I think he could bring new, younger viewers to the series."
European networks all renewed Men for its eighth season. There have, however, been murmurs of dissent surrounding CSI. In the U.K., where Danson's Cheers and Becker were solid performers, he is seen as a comic actor, not a by-the-book police investigator. In Germany, where his Cheers and Damages bombed, he's an unknown quantity. But he'll likely be a hit in France, where viewers know him from Damages, popular there. Parisian paper L'Express said the casting was "good news given Mr. Danson's charisma and talent."
SVU might have the easiest transition. Fellow procedural Criminal Minds survived Mandy Patinkin's exit and remains a top draw worldwide. Says Christian Junklewitz, a reporter for German TV fan website SerienJunkies.de, "The procedurals, where the team, not one star, is the important factor, these tend to weather casting changes."
Rebecca Leffler in Paris contributed to this report.