TODAY   |  March 08, 2011

Was it fair to fire Sheen?

NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports on Charlie Sheen’s being let go from his role on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” and Steve Abubato, media consultant and author, and Linda Kenney Baden, a trial attorney, discuss the legality of CBS' decision.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Speaking of the Internet , let's get to Charlie Sheen speaking out about his firing from " Two and a Half Men ." NBC 's Jeff Rossen is in Los Angeles with details. Jeff , good morning.

JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hi , Meredith , good morning to you. In just one week, Charlie Sheen has lost his kids and now his job as well. I talked to him just minutes after he was fired yesterday. I asked how he's feeling. He said, and I'm quoting here, "Great. I didn't like that show anyway or those dumb bowling shirts they made me wear. Now I'm free." But this morning, Sheen 's future in Hollywood is more uncertain than ever.

Mr. CHARLIE SHEEN: Because you judge me, you condemn me, you discarded me. Well, not anymore. Winning.

ROSSEN: Late Monday night, just hours after he was fired, Charlie Sheen went online and went off again.

Mr. SHEEN: We are in the -- in the -- in the middle of a movement here, an odyssey of epic proportions , epic, epic proportions .

ROSSEN: At times, Sheen barely made sense.

Mr. SHEEN: I think we should do my book. Incidentally,

the title, best title of all time, "Apocalypse Me: The Jaws of Life ."

"Apocalypse Me: The Jaws of Life ." That was brilliant.

ROSSEN: It's hard to watch, especially now. Charlie Sheen has been officially dumped from his hit sitcom, " Two and a Half Men ." No more temporary hiatus. Now it's really over. In its termination letter obtained by TMZ , Warner Bros. called Sheen "dangerously self-destructive" and "very ill."

ROSSEN: Did you turn to alcohol and other substances because you were bored?

Mr. SHEEN: No, I did -- I did that because they work.

ROSSEN: Ever show up to the set drunk or high?

Mr. SHEEN: Never once, never once. You know, a little bit sideways having not slept, but never loaded, never drunk, nothing on the set.

ROSSEN: But in its letter, Warner Bros. says, "Outtakes of the filming show Mr. Sheen had difficulty remembering his lines and hitting his marks," and point out his sudden weight loss of 20 pounds after the Christmas break . "He appeared to be using drugs heavily." Studio execs say they even tried to help him repeatedly and "reached out to Mr. Sheen 's family and friends and had an airplane waiting to take him to rehab." CBS president, Les Moonves , personally visited Mr. Sheen in his home. But, the letter says, " Mr. Sheen refused to leave his home for treatment."

Mr. SHEEN I'm free at last, free at last.

ROSSEN: Just after he as fired Monday, Sheen was spotted out and about in Hollywood with one of his so-called "goddesses," waving a machete saying he'd destroy anyone who messed with his family, figuratively speaking. Then came the new webcast.

Mr. SHEEN: Now I'm smoking a cigarette and drinking something I won't reveal, unless they pay me.

ROSSEN: Warner Bros . said it "could not and should not attempt to continue 'business as usual' while Mr. Sheen destroys himself as the world watches."

Mr. SHEEN: Everybody wins.

ROSSEN: While Sheen says there's no morals clause in his contract, Warner Bros. claims there is, saying they can fire him if they believe he's "committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude ."

ROSSEN: The future of " Two and a Half Men " remains unclear. Does the show go on without Sheen , or is it finished entirely? Is he finished entirely?

Mr. SHEEN: Keep in mind, like any time I roll something out, my plan is the best one in the room, and people are starting to wake up

and realize that. That their plan......and my plan is gold.

ROSSEN: Warner Bros . is taking it even a step further. They now want Charlie Sheen to pay them for lost revenue for all the missed episodes. Sheen has vowed to fight back in court and countersue. We also have new developments this morning in Sheen 's custody battle. His lawyer now tells NBC News settlement talks are progressing with Sheen 's estranged wife, Brooke Mueller , and they're hoping to reach a deal on their twin boys soon.

Meredith: All right, Jeff Rossen , thank you very much . Media consultant, Steve Adubato , is the author of "What Were They Thinking." Linda Kenney Baden is a veteran trial attorney. Good morning to you both.

VIEIRA: Good morning, Meredith .

Ms. LINDA KENNEY BADEN: Good morning, Meredith .

Mr. STEVE ADUBATO (Author, "What Were They Thinking"): Linda , let me start with you in this letter from Warner Bros.

VIEIRA: Right.

Ms. BADEN: It details what the studio claims are justifiable reasons to fire Sheen . At this point, do you think the studio has the upper hand here?

VIEIRA: Oh absolutely not.

Ms. BADEN: Not.

VIEIRA: As an employment lawyer, I tell you I love this. It sets their position, and remember, he filmed live the last three episodes, two of the last three episodes of " Two and a Half Men ." So, if he was doing his job, the studio can't say, 'Well, you know, we didn't think you were ready to do your job because you didn't submit us a doctor's note.' He said, 'I'm ready to go.' And if I'm his lawyer I love this.

Ms. BADEN: But, you know, the studio's saying that his performances have not been up to standard and that his interviews and his rants against Chuck Lorre , the show's creator, have been hurting the show.

VIEIRA: It's a press release that's mean -- means nothing in the law. All that matters is his contract. What does his contract say and can he get paid for -- if he was ready to tape? And that's all that matters here. Remember, they're behind because he's in the world of Twitter , he's in the world of Facebook . He's in the social media. This is not 20th Century conglomerate

Ms. BADEN: trying to catch up to Charlie needs -- Charlie Sheen 's....

There's this whole issue -- yeah, there's this whole issues of the morals clause, too, whether there was one or wasn't.

VIEIRA: Yeah.

Mr. ADUBATO: If indeed there was one...

VIEIRA: It's not a real one. The one that's in here is not a real morals clause.

Ms. BADEN: Well...

Mr. ADUBATO: It says -- they take them off the billing. So what? That doesn't mean they can't pay him. Or shouldn't pay him.

Ms. BADEN: Look, Meredith , I have problems with the way CBS and Warner Bros. handled this because I felt they should have stepped in sooner. So my point of view is this...

Mr. ADUBATO: There were other times, obviously, when he was behaving badly.

VIEIRA: Look, domestic violence cases, you know, shot someone who he's very closely connected to. The situation at the plaza. What really -- in my mind what it came down to is the attacks against CBS and Warner Bros. And, ultimately, what they decided was he looks horrible, he's presenting himself in a terrible way. And that may work in a wacky webcast or it may work because, you know, we have this interest in the way he's acting right now. But that doesn't work in a family sitcom, even though he played, you know, a character that was a little bit left of center, if you will, in terms of his conduct. It doesn't work in a show like this. Forget about from a legal point of view.

Mr. ADUBATO: But you can't. You can't forget from a legal point.

Ms. BADEN: Their brand is hurt, his brand is destroyed. You can't -- listen...

Mr. ADUBATO: You can't forget the legal point of view. His ratings were through the roof on the last rerun of " Two and a Half Men ." Why are we talking about him?

Ms. BADEN: Because of the curiosity of his insanity.

Mr. ADUBATO: Because he's theater. But that's...

Ms. BADEN: Not because people are attracted to him. As a person you can watch on a regular basis?

Mr. ADUBATO: That's what makes him great theater, and that's why it has nothing to do with his contract.

Ms. BADEN: Listen, people pull over for train wrecks and car wrecks, too. That doesn't mean they'll do it on a regular basis. This is a different kind of situation.

Mr. ADUBATO: Oh, I can't wait to watch him.

Ms. BADEN: Well, he has said in response to his firing, he wrote, "It is a big day of gladness at the sober valley lodge because now I can take all of the bazillions."

VIEIRA: Yeah.

Mr. ADUBATO: Do you think there's any method to this?

VIEIRA: Put it this way, he's losing $2 million an episode, and the last time I checked he was trying to sell T-shirts . So the question is, maybe he should listen to Suze Orman when it comes to managing money. My point is, he actually may have money problems. You lose $2 million, I don't know how that's a good day for you. An episode! This is not a good day for him. His brand is destroyed. I don't see how he works in a regular situation, but I think CBS and Warner Bros. are going to try to replace him. I don't know how that works.

Mr. ADUBATO: Warner Bros . wants them to pay them for lost revenue. Any likelihood that's going...

VIEIRA: Never, never is going to happen. As a matter of fact, what they've done in this letter is they've created a situation. They said, 'We've terminated you because we don't like your physical illness, we don't like your mental illness.' They may have given him an avenue to go to federal law . We don't like it, but this case is positioning to settle. This is all about positioning, and it has nothing to do about anything else.

Ms. BADEN: But isn't that reason enough to fire them?

VIEIRA: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Mr. ADUBATO: I mean, if they don't like the way he's behaved, isn't that reason enough?

VIEIRA: Can't do it. It's controlled by his contract. You can't just say, 'I don't like it.' I mean, they hired him because he is Charlie Sheen , because he is...

Ms. BADEN: A felony charge.

Mr. ADUBATO: By the way -- by the way, Steve and I didn't talk before we came as

Ms. BADEN: you can see....

A felony charge doesn't matter.

Mr. ADUBATO: They didn't fire him for a felony charge.

Ms. BADEN: A felony charge...

Mr. ADUBATO: They didn't fire him when they listed those things.

Ms. BADEN: They listed that. They sure did. They listed...

Mr. ADUBATO: They mention that, obviously.

VIEIRA: They mention it, but they didn't take action when he had the felony charge. They renewed his contract last May.

Ms. BADEN: You're right about that. They should have acted then because now it looks like they're doing it because he looks bad, because he's presenting in a terrible way.

Mr. ADUBATO: Because he attacked the executive producer, and they didn't like it.

Ms. BADEN: That as well.

Mr. ADUBATO: That's what it all comes down to.

Ms. BADEN: OK, well, we'll see how this all shakes out. If I were you , I'd tweet about this, you guys. Linda Kenney Baden and Steve Adubato , thank you very much .

VIEIRA: