Upfront 2010

Why CBS Needed Charlie Sheen

'Two and a Half Men' Actor Was Indirectly Integral for Network's Aggressive Thursday-Night Foray

By Published on .

Most Popular

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- CBS is truly happy that negotiations with actor Charlie Sheen, which have been the subject of public debate for weeks, didn't turn its popular sitcom, "Two and a Half Men" into "One and a Half Men." Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS Corp., told a version of that joke at least twice yesterday -- once to reporters at a press breakfast and once at his TV network's upfront.

Charlie Sheen's presence on Monday night's 'Two and a Half Men' will help CBS try to undermine rival NBC.
Charlie Sheen's presence on Monday night's 'Two and a Half Men' will help CBS try to undermine rival NBC.
While such stuff makes for a good joke, Mr. Sheen's importance to CBS next season has emerged as serious business. Had the network not cemented his participation in "Men," it likely would not have been able to mount one of the most aggressive efforts it has made to undermine rival NBC.

CBS surprised many people Wednesday by unveiling a fall schedule that attempts to establish a beachhead of comedies at 8 p.m. Thursdays -- typically a time when NBC has been known for launching popular sitcoms that target an upscale audience and that have long helped it create Thursday-night lineups that generate big ratings and attract advertising. Even though NBC has experienced ratings woes in recent years, its Thursday-night comedy lineup between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. has remained a relative bright spot on the schedule, with shows such as "The Office" and "30 Rock" securing some of the higher prices for advertising among NBC's prime-time ranks.

Charlie Sheen is helping CBS strike at that NBC fortress. How? Without Mr. Sheen's presence on Monday night, "Two and a Half Men" would likely have lost audience -- which means CBS would have had to rely on another Monday-night solider, the growing "The Big Bang Theory," to keep things solid as it tries to launch two new shows Mondays (sitcom "Mike & Molly" and revival drama "Hawaii Five-O") in the fall.

But with Mr. Sheen committed to "Men," CBS is free to move "Big Bang" over to Thursday nights, where it can pair that show with "$#*! My Dad Says," a comedy based on the Twitter-ed musings of someone's cranky father (CBS's other Monday-night comedies, "How I Met Your Mother" and "Rules of Engagement" are more mature).

Thursday night remains one of the most important nights of the week for advertisers, particularly movie studios looking to goose box-office results for films that open Fridays or retailers who want to draw attention to a weekend sale.

At a press conference yesterday, CBS executive said they would try to launch five new shows, all of them paired with established members of its programming lineup. In addition to "Mike & Molly" and "Hawaii Five-O" on Mondays and "$#*! My Dad Says" on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., , the network also said it would launch humorous legal comedy "The Defenders" Wednesdays at 10 p.m, and cop-show "Blue Bloods" Friday nights at 10 p.m. "Survivor," long a Thursday-night mainstay, moves to Wednesdays to make room for the Thursday comedy block.

The network canceled shows such as "Ghost Whisperer," "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "Accidentally on Purpose," "Cold Case, "Miami Medical," "Numbers" and "Gary Unmarried" -- programs with ratings that were insufficient or in decline, executives explained. CBS is also moving "CSI: Miami" to Sunday nights and launching two shows that were associated with mid-season -- "Undercover Boss" and "Rules of Engagement" -- to the fall.

CBS executives said they had toyed with virtually every sort of scheduling combination possible. But the one that will show up in the fall would not have been possible without Charlie Sheen making an appearance Mondays.