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Ashton Kutcher Replaces Charlie Sheen

Will Two and a Half Men survive more than two and a half weeks?

Ashton Kutcher

It’s always fun when you hear various rumors about Hollywood stuff.

When Charlie Sheen was fired from Two and a Half Men, we heard about a few actors that would replace him. The one that seemed to be the front runner was John Stamos (Full House). Last week, we started hearing about Hugh Grant. I immediately thought how odd it was that Sheen would be replaced by another actor who has paid for women (remember his prostitute scandal that had him apologizing on The Tonight Show?). Negotiations with Grant fell through, and CBS announced they signed Ashton Kutcher. It’s arguable if he’s more famous for That 70s Show, Punk’d, his Twitter feeds, or being Mr. Demi Moore.

Kutcher has released a statement saying “We can fill the stage with laughter that will echo in viewer’s homes. I can’t replace Charlie Sheen, but I’m going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people.”

Executive producer Chuck Lorre and the rest of the CBS brass were smart to continue on with the show. Many thought they’d just drop it. Not only does the show have a built in fan base, but you have to think many new people will tune in just to see how Kutcher fits in.

Lorre issued a statement that read, "We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton joining our family. Added to that is the deep sigh of relief knowing that our family stays together. If I was any happier, it’d be illegal.”

I’m guessing about this time, Sheen isn’t happy and is probably doing something illegal. It’s weird that two of the most popular sitcoms right now, are both losing their lead actors.

It’s not as controversial with Steve Carell and The Office, partly because instead of suitcases of cocaine, Carell was getting suitcases of money to do films. That’s also a comedy with a larger cast. Many fans favorite character wasn’t even the lead, but Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, in a supporting role.

Producers of Two and a Half Men don’t know how Kutcher will be integrated into the show (or at least they’re not saying). Sheen played a jingle writer and womanizer. Speculation is that Kutcher isn’t going to be that same character, which is smart.

One of the first sitcoms to deal with a character leaving was Bewitched. From 1964 – ’72, Darrin Stephens was played by Dick York. Another Dick, Sargent, played that character in the final four years. It was 40 years ago, yet people still talk about how bizarre it was to see a different actor in the same role.

In the ‘70s, Happy Days was the show that eventually gave us the phrase “jumping the shark.” This refers to the episode where Fonzie jumps over a shark on water skis. It’s at that point that the show gradually went down hill.

When the “Jump the Shark” website was created, they talked about shows bringing babies in as new characters. They also joked about blonde character-actor Ted McGinley joining your cast. He’s the guy that replaced actors in Married…with Children and The Love Boat.

Happy Days had him replacing Ron Howard after seven seasons. He went on to become a big time movie director. McGinley played Mrs. C’s nephew, and teen girl favorite Scott Baio was given more to do. The show ran another couple of years. I still don’t know whatever happened to Ritchie’s older brother that appeared on the first season, and was never heard or seen from again.

Mork & Mindy was one of the spinoff shows from Happy Days, and they went through a variety of different supporting characters, but they were smart enough not to attempt to replace Pam Dawber or Robin Williams in the lead parts.

The other spinoff was Laverne & Shirley. I have no clue why they thought they could succeed when Shirley (Cindy Williams) left the show after a fight with producers over her pregnancy leave. When she sued the network, it was settled out of court (I’m guessing Sheen won’t have such luck). No actress replaced Williams. The show kept the name, but was just “Laverne.”

Like Ron Howard, Penny Marshall would go on to a very successful career as a director (Big, A League of Their Own).

It’s funny to think that the late Farrah Fawcett, who everyone always thinks of when they hear Charlie’s Angels, was only in it for the first season. She was replaced by the equally beautiful Cheryl Ladd.

Later in the series, Kate Jackson left and was replaced by Shelley Hack. Eventually, Tiffanny Welles replaced Hack.

Another blonde bombshell, Suzanne Somers, left Three’s Company after wanting more money. She wanted to go from $30,000 an episode, to $150,000 and a 10% share of profits (that’s a lot of money, even in the early ‘80s). She went on to fame with…the Thigh Master. The show brought in Jenilee Harrison to play Chrissy’s accident-prone cousin.

John Ritter was replaced, but not on Three’s Company. He was doing the sitcom 8 Simple Rules, which was getting raved reviews, when he passed away. The show brought in David Spade and James Garner to fill out the cast, and it ran for a few seasons after that. The show wrote his passing into the story.

Chico and the Man lost their main star – comedian Freddie Prinze – when he committed suicide in 1977. The show was about an auto garage owner that was always angry, and the Latino kid working for him. They opted to go with a 12-year-old boy replacing Prinze. Ratings dropped and the show was cancelled.

Cheers had more success when they suffered a death. Ernie Pantusso played the slow-witted bartender called Coach. When he passed away, they brought in Woody Harrelson to play a bartender that was also slow on the uptake. It’s amazing that the show remained so successful after losing other key cast members, too. It’s the only sitcom to have lasted longer after replacing actors. Shelley Long left for a film career (in which she did a number of horrible movies). Kirstie Alley replaced her, and instead of the sexual tension that Long and Ted Danson had – Alley and Danson often got under each others skin (in a bad way).

This is a successful way to replace characters.

M*A*S*H* worked when characters left because instead of bringing in another bumbling buffoon when McLean Stevenson departed (in what is perhaps the worst career movie in TV history) -- they brought in the tough, but fair Commanding Officer, played by Harry Morgan. What I always found weird about them casting Morgan for the part, is he once played a completely different character years earlier on the show. When M*A*S*H* lost the weasel played by Larry Linville, they brought in David Ogden Stiers, who played the very educated, but snobby, Charles. It could still be a character Alan Alda torments, but for different reasons. Oh, and Alda lost his best friend Trapper, who was replaced by Mike Farrell as B.J. It was also a smart move to have Stevenson die in a helicopter crash, since it was a show about surgeons during a war. That also packed a powerful punch in a sitcom that was often funny and sad, often in the same episode. It also helped that all their actors weren’t leaving at the same time.

Scrubs is a perfect example of a show that had that happen, and tried for that final season without success. Zach Braff was Scrubs key guy. He left and the show went for that one last season. It was one of the rare shows to have a completely different network pick it up.

It finished the 7th season when NBC canceled it. ABC grabbed the show for an 8th season, and that wrapped up a lot of storylines. The network tried getting creator Bill Lawrence to do another season, even though contracts were up for most of the cast. That meant a big reboot for the final season. A few of the actors stayed on, and Braff was a recurring guest. The ratings were on life support, and the show became a code blue.

When The Cosby Show was the biggest hit on TV, reports were that Bill Cosby couldn’t get along with Lisa Bonet (I remember him being furious about her sexual role in the Mickey Rourke/Robert De Niro film Angel Heart). She was strangely rewarded with this fight by given a completely different sitcom, aptly called A Different World. Bonet thanked Cosby by leaving after one season when she got pregnant. She was replaced by Jasmine Guy. The show did well, running right after the #1 rated Cosby Show. Bonet eventually returned to The Cosby Show.

Roseanne was a #1 show, won Emmy’s and other awards, and they went Bewitched on us. After the 5th season, actress Lecy Goranson left for Vassar College. She played daughter Becky Connor, and was replaced the following season by Sarah Chalke. The rest of the shows run would alternate between the two, often with inside jokes about it (one included Connor’s watching Bewitched and discussing the Darrin replacement).

All this Two and a Half Men talk with Charlie Sheen is also interesting because it’s not the first time Sheen has been involved in a popular sitcom that’s replacing a main star. Sheen himself replaced Michael J. Fox on Spin City. This was after the fourth season, when Fox announced he’d leave because of Parkinson’s Disease symptoms that were worsening. Sheen was brought in to play Deputy Mayor of New York City, with ironically, the show moving from New York to Los Angeles and losing other original cast members. Sheen snagged a Golden Globe for it, but with lower ratings, the show got the ax in 2002.

I remember other ‘70s shows that changed cast members without missing a beat. Sometimes it helps if the sitcom story lends itself to changing characters.

The White Shadow got a few different players on the high school basketball team, but that’s a lot like real life.

Taxi, arguably the funniest sitcom of all-time, never lost its key cast of Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd, or Marilu Henner. And when they replaced cast members with new cab drivers, they always worked. Those would include bizarre comedian Andy Kaufman, quirky character actress Carol Kane, and now more well known for Celebrity Rehab – Jeff Conaway.

This wasn’t a ‘70s show, but it was called That ‘70s Show. It had to deal with Topher Grace leaving after the 7th season (for the most common reason – a movie career). They brought in the unknown Josh Meyers, and that only lasted another season. Ashton Kutcher soon followed Grace, but returned sporadically in the 8th season. Grace and Kutcher graced the shows presence on their finale, too.

That means it’s now come around full circle, with Kutcher being the one returning to TV to replace Charlie Sheen. Unless this is all one big episode of Punk’d.