The World Doesn’t Have to End for Two and a Half Men

Even though it seems like the world revolves around Charlie Sheen these days, it doesn’t.

ay-dee-oas.

ay-dee-oas.

Everyone is replaceable in the world of television, shows have been doing it for years when real-life drama overtakes what happens on screen. Sheen should know this since he was the replacement in one of the most-publicized TV departures of all time when Michael J. Fox left Spin City because of his Parkinson’s disease. That knowledge was worthless to stop him from pretty much forcing CBS to yank him from the most popular sitcom on TV.

If you’re a fan of Two and a Half Men, first off, I feel sorry for you. Not because Sheen is leaving, but because that’s what you believe is funny. Secondly, take heart — there could be light at the end of this tunnel littered with more carnage than the tunnel in Daylight. Just because Sheen is leaving doesn’t necessarily mean the show is dead. Some shows — ER, M*A*S*H, NYPD Blue, Beverly Hills 90210 — survived for years after one or more of their best characters left and were replaced.

It’s those other shows — Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, That 70s Show, X-Files — that couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice creatively or audience-wise and suffered a hopeless, painful death. Those are the ones that should worry 2.5 Men fans.

CBS hasn’t said what it intends to do, whether it was keep the character and bring on another actor to play him Bewitched-style, or just bring in a completely new actor and start from scratch like Law & Order. Either way, this is scary ground CBS and the show’s parent company Warner Brothers is treading on. They need to learn from the successes and mistakes of the past in these situations before they proceed:

Kirstie Alley takes over for Shelley Long on Cheers

team rebecca for me

team rebecca for me

HOW IT HAPPENED: Long has become the Keyser Soze of sitcom TV decision-making. “If you leave your popular, great-paying TV job, Shelley Long will come to get ya!” She left the show in search of big-screen stardom, but instead churned out Outrageous Fortune and Hello Again. (Please note I’m not counting the box office bomb Money Pit in there since it’s one of the funniest movies of the 80s.) Alley stepped in as a smart, strong, career-driven businesswoman and ended seven years later as a pathetic, lovesick loser — and made both equally funny.

RESULT: It’s one of pop culture’s greatest arguments, up there with Pacino or DeNiro, Armageddon or Deep Impact, East Cost rap or West Coast gangster. Rebecca Howe or Diane Chambers? Either answer is perfectly defensible and even if you’re a Diane fan, you can easily understand why someone would go with Rebecca. It’s the best replacement in TV history that added seven years to a show that could have imploded after one.

GRADE: A. And even though this clip has nothing to do with Diane or Rebecca, it’s still some of the funniest TV ever …

The Powells take over for the Pembrokes on Charles in Charge

HOW IT HAPPENED: The show had a brief run on CBS, but was canceled after a year. Instead of just doing the honorable thing and taking its rightful place in TV’s graveyard, the show fought back — and won. It went into syndication for another four seasons, with the original CBS family, the Penbrokes, being replaced by the new syndication family, the Powells.

RESULT: You can fight all day over Diane-Rebecca, but there is no such acceptable Charles in Charge fight — the Powells destroy the Penbrokes in every category. Cuteness, comedy, chemistry, and most importantly, hotness since future Baywatch babe Nicole Eggert blows the forgettable April Lerman away. Get it? Blows away? While Josie Davis, who played Sarah Powell, was mousy then, she’s scored the upset of the last 20 years by passing out Eggert in current hotness. Anyway, it wasn’t so much of a replacement as it was a complete show retooling — only Scott Baio as Charles and Willie Aames as the criminally underrated Buddy Lembeck returned — but somehow it worked as one of two shows I can think of that improved when it went into syndication after a short network run. Ironically, Eggert was involved in both since Baywatch was the other.

GRADE: B+

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdVFmjYe9Pc

Ted McGinley on any show

HOW IT HAPPENED: No one seems to know how Ted McGinley became the Patron Saint of Jump the Shark, it just happened that he became a popular replacement on popular shows. And when he did, the shows bottomed out. Sometimes.  

RESULT: Not as bad as it might seem. He wasn’t responsible for the demise of Happy Days, Love Boat and Dynasty, they just happened on his watch when the shows were running out of gas anyway. And I’ll argue that Married with Children got better when he signed on. Maybe not at the immediate moment he came on as Jefferson, but I’ll put McGinley’s 168 episodes up against David Garrison’s 80 episodes as Steve any day of the week.

GRADE: C+. Whether he’s responsible for show deaths or not, they happened. It can’t be coincidence.

Jenilee Harrison takes over for Suzanne Somers on Three’s Company

suzanne somers! this is my bad side!

suzanne somers! this is my bad side!

HOW IT HAPPENED: In one of the most public TV contract disputes ever, Somers took the ol’ “pay me or else” stance, and the over-matched Harrison became “else” as Chrissy’s cousin Cindy. She was so over-matched, in fact, that the network corrected its mistake a year later by dumping Harrison and bringing in the Pricilla Barnes as Terri.

RESULT: Poop on a stick. People kept watching, sure. But watching any non-Chrissy Three’s Company episode on TV Land now is like watching Back to the Future II and III with the Crispin Glover impersonator guy and George McFly. It’s just someone trying to be Chrissy, with very little success. At least Terri was given a little more depth. Poor Harrison must have asked how to play the character, and was told, “Just be Chrissy, it’s not rocket science.” Apparently, it was.

GRADE: D-

The Coy and Vance debacle of a mess of a travesty

HOW IT HAPPENED: John Schneider (Bo) and Tom Wopat (Luke) took the Suzanne Somers stance and decided to sit out the fifth season of Dukes of Hazzard. Instead of paying them, CBS decided to bring in the never-before-seen Duke boy cousins Coy and Vance. Not coincidentally, they looked exactly like their predecessors.

RESULT: Worst. Replacement. Ever. When you think about it, it should have been really easy. Drive the car, argue with Boss Hogg, break out of jail for the 184th time, talk about Uncle Jesse’s famous moonshine, kiss the girl, and we’re done. Bing bang boom. At least that’s what CBS believed. But the utter train wreck that ensued rendered the show unwatchable — and it was all because of the complete lack of chemistry, acting ability or charisma displayed by Coy and Vance. Sheen could take over tomorrow for Steve Jobs and do a better job running Apple than Coy and Vance did with Dukes of Hazzard. Watching a DoH episode now is torture enough because it’s so fascinatingly dated. But watching a Coy and Vance episode is impossible. It can’t be done.

GRADE: F

Leanna Creel (Tori) takes over for Elizabeth Berkley (Jesse) and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Kelly) on Saved by the Bell

HOW IT HAPPENED: At the last minute, after all the contracted episodes had been filmed — including the graduation episode — NBC decided, “What the heck, let’s make some more Bell. We need more Bell!” Four of the actors looked at their bank accounts and future prospects and said, “Hells yeah!” Berkley and Thiessen gave the time-honored “Thanks but no thanks” response and skipped out on Bayside. In what could be the most audience-insulting move in TV history, NBC aired Kelly-Jesse episodes at 11 a.m. on Saturdays, and Tori episodes at 11:30 and the show never, ever explained what was up. Then it aired that graduation episode at the end of the dysfunctional final season with Kelly and Jesse and ignored Tori, pretty much erasing her from existence like she was the fourth person in Marty McFly’s family picture.

no one picks tori over her

no one picks tori over her

RESULT: One of the most interesting pop culture phenomena of the 20 years, the Tori Paradox, as it is now known, continues to baffle even the biggest Saved by the Bell fans. The Tori switch may have been a smidge less awkward if Creel weren’t such a bad actress — but she was. Plus, she wasn’t one-20th as hot as either Berkley or Thiessen, so we 17-year-old boys watching at the time were pretty much left with nothing. The best example for how stupid the whole thing turned out was the school dance where Zack and Tori finally got together. Zack had gone with empty-headed Ginger, played by the gorgeous Bridgette Sampras (Billy Madison’s hot teacher), so the show needed some kind of plausible reason for Zack to end up with Tori instead of Ginger. In real life, Creel would get picked over Sampras exactly zero times in 1,000 attempts. So they made Ginger so remarkably and unrealistically silly, vapid and stupid to that point that she fast dances by herself to a slow song(!). That way, Zack had no choice but go for door No. 2 — Tori. Sampras must watch that episode on reruns and want to tear her hair out. Every second Creel is on screen, you have to be electroshocked into resisting the urge to throw your TV out the window.

GRADE: As Slater would say, “F  … minus … for cheating.” Just making two people disappear is bad enough, but TV’s done that forever. We’re used to it. To have them magically reappear with no explanation is just cruel to the viewers and mind-bogglingly insulting. Shame on NBC for thinking this was acceptable.

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