The XX Factor

Why Domestic Violence Charges Didn’t Sink Charlie Sheen, But Recorded Bigotry Did

The extended public meltdown of Charlie Sheen reached an apex yesterday with the star’s nonsensical, bananas radio rant on “The Alex Jones Show” in which he claims to be totally sober, calls Thomas Jefferson a “pussy,” and makes vaguely anti-Semitic comments towards Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre. Almost immediately after that rant hit the Internet, CBS decided to discontinue production on Two and a Half Men - which was already on hiatus so that Sheen could enter rehab -for the rest of the season. According to The Hollywood Reporter , this shut down could cost producer Warner Bros. Television as much as $250 million in syndication money.

This isn’t the first time that the  Men production has been affected by Sheen’s misdeeds. Last year, Sheen took a month-long hiatus from the show after his wife Brooke Mueller lodged domestic violence charges against him. Reports say she told cops that Sheen held a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her. He was back at work just a few weeks after this first hiatus began, and at the time, one of Two and a Half Men ‘s producers said that Charlie was “looking forward to clearing his name, putting all of this behind him and spending time with his kids.”

So why are they halting production for the rest of the season after this radio interview, when the domestic violence charges merited only a brief hiatus? I would speculate that it’s two things. One, the public could not see the evidence of Sheen’s alleged domestic abuse, while we all heard him call Chuck Lorre “Haim Levine” in a seemingly anti-Semitic slur. At the time of the alleged assault, People magazine noted that , “Mueller did not suffer serious physical injury.” Sheen eventually accepted a plea bargain in which the most serious charges were dismissed, so it was an issue that could be more easily swept under the rug by the Two and a Half Men brass. Two, Sheen’s behavior is just so unremittingly bad at this point-this radio interview is the third or fourth public relations disaster in just the past few months-that producers could no longer ignore the Sheen problem, even though it will really cost them. When a screaming hooker in a closet isn’t even the worst of your marquee star’s issues, it’s tough to keep going with production.

Update, Feb. 25, 2010 : There’s another reason this might have been the last straw for Sheen at Two and a Half Men : The show might not be able to get insurance anymore with Sheen on board. I spoke to Bethany Thomas, an Insurance Specialist and Account Executive at the Entertainment Insurance firm Reiff & Associates, and she said, that “public meltdowns, on the record statements, personal interviews and historical behavior all comes into consideration,” when they’re looking to insure a show with a troublesome cast member, particularly if those meltdowns come post-rehab.

Photograph of Charlie Sheen by Riccardo S. Savi/Getty Images.