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IMAGE: Two and a Half Men
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Can "Two and a Half Men" live on without star Charlie Sheen? Other shows have done it.
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updated 3/9/2011 11:07:29 AM ET 2011-03-09T16:07:29

Charlie Sheen is gone, but his sitcom "Two and a Half Men" is likely to stick around.

Although the eight-year-old show is aging and revolved around Sheen's playboy character Charlie Harper, Warner Bros. Television and CBS have every incentive to try to keep it going after producers fired him on Monday.

The show, for one, is a huge moneymaker: It is the most popular comedy on the air, and in syndication. But the more important question might be whether viewers will buy a remade show next fall.

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There are numerous examples of shows losing stars and plugging along with other actors, though not necessarily in the same roles. Just ask Dick Sargent, Jimmy Smits, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Sandy Duncan and, yes, even Sheen.

In Sheen's case, he worked for two years on ABC's "Spin City," essentially replacing original star Michael J. Fox in 2000 when Parkinson's disease made it impossible for Fox to continue.

Sheen attacks men behind 'Two and a Half Men'

"NYPD Blue" continued for a decade with Smits after its original lead actor, David Caruso, decided he wanted to try movies.

Farrah Fawcett-Majors was television's biggest new star when she left "Charlie's Angels" in 1977, although she made guest appearances afterward. Cheryl Ladd joined the cast the same year, with the show running another four seasons.

Story: 7 ideas for saving 'Two and a Half Men'

Duncan had a tough task in 1987: Replace Valerie Harper in "Valerie." It was eventually renamed "The Hogan Family" and went off the air in 1991. Suzanne Somers left "Three's Company" in 1981, and was replaced by Priscilla Barnes. The show ended in 1984.

Each of those new actors played different characters than the ones who left.

Interactive: Charlie Sheen's ups and downs (on this page)

That wasn't the case with Sargent, who moved right in as "Bewitched" star Elizabeth Montgomery's husband Darrin Stephens when the original Darrin, Dick York, left in 1969. The show ended in 1972.

Even if "Two and a Half Men" returns, it's highly unlikely that there will be a new Charlie Harper. The hard-partying Sheen embodied the character; some suggested it was written with his real-life persona in mind.

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Viewers wouldn't buy it, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

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"It would be like if your mother said, 'The role of your father is now being played by so-and-so,' and not 'I've left your father and here is my new guy,'" Thompson said.

What would be important is for the show to keep the same "'Odd Couple' plus a kid" dynamic embodied by the suave Harper, his nebbish brother portrayed by Jon Cryer and the Cryer character's son, he said.

Characters coming and going in major series are no longer unusual, particularly if the series stay on the air for a long time. When "ER" came to an end on NBC, it had a completely different cast than when it started. "Law & Order" rotated actors.

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"Viewers expect that," said Tim Brooks, author of "The Complete Director to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows." "They don't expect shows to be static. People change over time. Relationships change over time."

Even the deaths of stars haven't stopped networks from keeping shows alive. "Chico and the Man" tried recasting when star Freddie Prinze committed suicide. And when John Ritter died of a heart ailment, ABC made the death of his character a central plot point in "8 Simple Rules."

For TV networks and producers, there's much less risk to keeping proven concepts alive than to hope audiences embrace something new.

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And it's not as if "Two and a Half Men" has worn out its welcome. The Nielsen Co. said it was the highest-rated comedy on television last week, even though CBS aired a rerun because production on the show had stopped.

Warner Bros. and CBS already made an investment in the show's future: The cast is signed for next season. That included Sheen, until his firing.

Given all the attention paid to the story the past few months, there's almost certain to be a big interest in a recast show if it premieres next fall.

"If I were an agent trying to sell my client to the producers, I would be making the point about how stupid it would be to take all the cultural equity and interest in this show and not bring it back again," Thompson said.

CBS, in a quiet move overshadowed Monday by Sheen's firing, began protecting itself if the show does not come back. It made a deal to continue the Monday comedy "How I Met Your Mother," with all of its original actors, for two more years.

Video: Was it fair to fire Sheen? (on this page)

Executives at CBS and Warner Bros. had no public comments on "Two and a Half Men" and its future Tuesday.

Neither did Chuck Lorre, the show's executive producer and an increasingly powerful force with CBS as the creative mind behind "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mike & Molly." If Lorre wanted to continue "Two and a Half Men," CBS would have reason to keep him happy.

And there could be a pride factor at stake: Since Sheen has spent the past couple of weeks publicly deriding Lorre, the producer might be sorely tempted to show how he can continue without him. Lorre had no comment Tuesday, a spokeswoman said.

The Hollywood executives have some time. The real deadline for a decision comes in May, when the networks announce their fall schedules and begin selling advertising time.

Continuing the show would also help Warner Bros. extended lucrative syndication deals for the show's reruns. It's already the most popular sitcom in syndication, with 177 completed episodes.

Two hundred episodes was once considered a key number in syndication, because it would allow stations to air episodes five days a week for 40 weeks without any reruns, said Bill Carroll, an expert in the syndication market for Katz Media.

Although that number is less important now, another full season of episodes would allow Warner Bros. to extend two separate syndication deals by a total of 78 weeks, bringing in a significant amount of revenue, he said.

Sheen's fellow cast members haven't commented about the public drama involving their colleague — to the point where Sheen expressed disappointment in one of his interviews that he hadn't been receiving support.

Holland Taylor, the actress who plays Sheen's mother, said Tuesday that "in my experience, Charlie was cordial and polite with all of his castmates and crew, sometimes even courtly ... and always witty.

Story: 'Men' co-star Holland Taylor defends Sheen

"We watched movies at his house occasionally — warm evenings with interesting, spirited conversation," Taylor said. "This is the guy I know. In this very sad and complicated time, I really have no comment, beyond valuing my own history with Charlie, and my abiding affection for him."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Is Rob Lowe replacing Charlie Sheen?

Photos: Charlie Sheen

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  1. Family affair

    Martin Sheen, Charlie Sheen's real-life father plays Martin, on Charlie's show "Anger Management." (FX) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Smoking man

    Sheen, left, holds a necrotic lung affected by tobacco use and a healthy lung as he talks to Dr. Oz during a taping of "The Dr. Oz Show," in New York. Sheen, who is a heavy smoker, also discussed his manic behavior and anger issues in the January 2013 episode. (Barbara Nitke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Star power

    Sheen, left, speaks as former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on July 10, 2012 in Hollywood, Calif. (Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Play ball!

    Sheen acknowledges the fans before throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on July 7, 2012 in San Diego. (Denis Poroy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. In the hot seat

    Comedy Central roasted Sheen in one of their infamous specials on Sept. 10, 2011. (Christopher Polk / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Enter the Warlock

    Sheen shows off his Detroit Tigers jersey during his performance at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on Saturday, April 2, 2011. Promising "the real story," the 45-year-old former "Two and a Half Men" star hit the road for a month-long, 20-city variety show tour, with the first stop a sold-out show in Detroit. (Carlos Osorio / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Thumbs down

    A Sheen fan offers her review while leaving the Fox Theatre in Detroit on April 2, 2011. (Geoff Robins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The gang's all here

    Sheen, second from left, is joined by Joey Scoleri of Live Nation, left, and "goddesses" Bree Olson and Natalie Kenly, right, at the after party for his Chicago tour stop at Enclave on April 3, 2011. (Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Blood thirst

    Charlie Sheen is seen on the rooftop of the Live Nation building drinking "Tiger Blood" in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 7, 2011. The "Two and a Half" men star was fired from the show earlier in the day by Warner Bros. (Jean Baptiste Lacroix / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Two for one

    Sheen poses with the two women he refers to as his "goddesses" in the kitchen of his Los Angeles home during the first week of March 2011. Natalie "Natty" Kenly, left, a model, and Rachel Oberlin, aka porn star Bree Olsen, gained fame during the actor's media blitz over his fight with CBS and Warner Bros. television. (Michael Austin / NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Plenty to say

    Adult film star Capri Anderson, the woman who was in Charlie Sheen's hotel room the night he allegedly trashed his suite, talks with ABC about the incident. Claiming to have feared for her life upon being locked in the bathroom, Capri said, "I'm not going to stand down and be completely be walked over." Anderson filed a harassment lawsuit, Sheen then countersued for extortion, and the case was dropped. (ABC via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Before the storm

    Sheen joins his ex wife Denise Richards and their daughters Sam and Lola in a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York on Oct. 25, 2010. Their museum visit ended a weekend together in which the four of them went shopping at an American Girl store, dined at Serafina Broadway and took in the Broadway show Mary Poppins.

    Sheen was later hospitalized after he was found drunk and naked with an alleged escort in his trashed room at The Plaza hotel. Damages to the room reportedly totaled $7,000. The actor's rep later said Sheen had had an allergic reaction to medication. (INFphoto.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Back to rehab

    Sheen, second from right, arrives with his attorney Richard Cummins, second from left, for a sentencing hearing at the Pitkin County Courthouse in Aspen, Colo., on Aug. 2, 2010. Sheen was sentenced under a plea deal to get a 30-day sentence to be "administered and executed" at Promises rehab facility in Malibu, Calif., for assaulting his wife Brooke Mueller during an alcohol-fueled Christmas Day quarrel in Aspen. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. See you in a month

    Sheen, right, leaves the Pitkin County Courthouse with his attorney Richard Cummins in Aspen, Colo., on Monday, June 7, 2010. A sentencing hearing for the actor in his domestic assault case against wife Brooke Mueller was continued until July 12. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. More troubles

    Sheen's Mercedes was apparently stolen from his Shermon Oaks, Calif., home in early 2010. It was found overturned hundreds of feet down a nearby cliff. On June 15, 2010, police reported a second Mercedes suffered the same fate. (Gus Ruelas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Not-so-merry Christmas

    Brooke Mueller Sheen called police on Christmas Day, 2009, reporting that Sheen attacked and threatened her. (Riccardo S. Savi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Got my designs on you

    Sheen has collaborated with the owner of the Rock & Roll Religion clothing line to create a line of shirts called the DaVinci Collection by Charlie Sheen. Sheen's "Two and a Half Men" character wears similar shirts. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Viva ALMA!

    Sheen, born Carlos Estevez, captured the outstanding male performance in a comedy TV series award at the 2008 ALMA Awards. The honors are given to Latino performers who promote positive portrayals of Latinos in the entertainment field. Sheen's paternal grandparents were Spanish, his maternal grandparents Irish. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Trying marriage again

    In 2008, Sheen married real-estate investor Brooke Mueller, seen here with Sheen and his daughters, Sam and Lola. The couple's twins, Bob and Max, were born on March 14, 2009. A Christmas Day fight that same year has sent Sheen's latest round of marital woes back into the tabloids. (Donato Sardella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Play clothes for the posh

    Fashion executive Michael Berens, Sheen and clothing designer Suzanne Ciulla pose with children wearing clothes from Sheen Kidz, a couture children’s sportswear inspired by Sheen’s daughters, Sam and Lola. (Donato Sardella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A 'Platoon' reunited

    Actor Willem Dafoe, director Oliver Stone, an unidentified guest, Sheen and Tom Berenger reunited for a screening of their classic film "Platoon" at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival in France. (Francois Durand / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Bounce' back

    Sheen starred in "The Big Bounce," a critical flop, in 2004. Although the film was based on a novel by Elmore Leonard and features Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman in addition to Sheen, it was a disaster, and cost $50 million to make. It earned back only $6 million. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Men, men, men, men, manly men

    Sheen and Jon Cryer play brothers with opposite temperaments in the CBS hit comedy "Two and a Half Men." Sheen reportedly earns $825,000 per episode on the show. (CBS via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Till divorce do us part

    Sheen married actress Denise Richards in 2002, and they had two daughters, Sam and Lola. Richards filed for divorce in 2005, and the details of their marriage, estrangement and custody battle quickly became tabloid fodder. Richards accused Sheen of abusing drugs and alcohol, and threatening her with violence. (Robert Mora / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Keep the Globe spinning

    In 2002, Sheen won the Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actor in a television comedy or musical series for his role in "Spin City." (Scott Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Putting a 'Spin' on things

    Sheen, shown with Barry Bostwick and Heather Locklear, played Charlie Crawford on "Spin City" from 2000 to 2002. As he does in "Two and a Half Men," Sheen played a character with the same first name as himself. Tony Danza Syndrome, perhaps? (ABC via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. X marks the film

    Sheen teamed again with brother Emilio Estevez to play real-life brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell in 2000's "Rated X." The Mitchells were pioneers in the pornography and strip-club industries in San Francisco in the 1970s and '80s. (Showtime via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. In court

    Drug issues have troubled Sheen for years. In 1998, he appeared in a Malibu, Calif., courtroom, where a judge ruled that the actor, who nearly died of a drug overdose five months before, could be released from his rehabilitation facility. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. He'll be there for you

    Sheen kisses Lisa Kudrow in his appearance on the hit show "Friends" in 1996. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Geronimo!

    In 1994's "Terminal Velocity," Sheen starred with Nastassja Kinski in a film about a skydiver who apparently dies on her first jump, but turns out to have faked her death. (Walt Disney Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Family of stars

    Sheen, father Martin Sheen and brother Emilio Estevez unveil Charlie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. (Jim Smeal / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. All for one, and one for all

    Sheen played Aramis, one of "The Three Musketeers," in the 1993 film version of Alexandre Dumas' classic story. Kiefer Sutherland played Athos, Oliver Platt played Porthos, and Chris O'Donnell played D'Artagnan, who longs to join the trio. (Walt Disney Studios) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Daddy and daughter

    Sheen and his daughter, Cassandra Jade Estevez, attended the 1992 premiere of "The Mighty Ducks." Sheen was just 19 when Cassandra was born. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Mullet man

    In the comedy spoofs "Hot Shots" and "Hot Shots Part Deux," Sheen plays Navy pilot Topper Harley. "Part Deux" parodies the action-movie genre, particularly the Rambo films. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Brothers at work

    Sheen and brother Emilio Estevez teamed up in 1990's "Men at Work," about two garbage collectors who discover a corpse. (Triumph Releasing) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Three strikes, yer out

    Sheen, right, and Tom Berenger starred in 1989's "Major League," a comedy about a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians. Sheen played Ricky Vaughn, an out-of-control pitcher who improves once he gets glasses. (Paramount via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Bang, bang, my baby shot me down

    In 1990, before Kelly Preston wed John Travolta, she was engaged to Sheen, who gave her a 2.5 carat pink diamond engagement ring. The engagement ended shortly after he accidentally shot her in the arm, causing a wound that required stitches. (Ron Galella / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Guns blazing

    Sheen, middle right, and Emilio Estevez, front, starred with Lou Diamond Phillips, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko and Dermot Mulroney in 1988's Western, "Young Guns." (20th Cenury Fox via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Greed is good

    Sheen starred in 1987's "Wall Street," where he plays Bud Fox, a young, ambitious trader who falls under the spell of ruthless millionaire Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas. Reportedly Sheen and director Oliver Stone parted ways after Stone approached Sheen to star in "Born on the Fourth of July," but then cast Tom Cruise without telling Sheen. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Fighting the war outside and the war inside

    In 1986's "Platoon," Sheen, center, starred with Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger in Stone's critically lauded Vietnam War movie. The film was based on Stone's own war experiences, and is regularly listed by critics as one of the best war films ever made. (Orion Pictures via Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Putting the moves on Ferris Bueller's sister

    Sheen and Jennifer Grey starred in 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," with Grey playing Ferris Bueller's snotty sister Jeanie and Sheen a rebel she meets at the police station. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. WOLVERINES!

    Sheen got his movie start in 1984's "Red Dawn." His fellow young stars included Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
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Timeline: Charlie Sheen's ups and downs

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