Open Mic

Behind the Charlie Sheen Lawsuit: Warner Bros. Knew What It Was Getting Into

Hillary Atkin Posted March 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Pumped up with a blend of Tiger Blood and Adonis DNA, Charlie Sheen didn't waste any time firing back against Warner Bros. and star showrunner and his hated nemesis, Chuck Lorre, after they fired him on Monday. Team Sheen just unleashed a $100 million lawsuit against the parties, plus punitive damages on behalf of the cast and crew of “Two and a Half Men,” claiming his dismissal was an orchestrated plot to push him out of his contract.

The lawsuit, filed by legal heavyweight Marty Singer, opens by saying: “Chuck Lorre, one of the richest men in television who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, believes himself to be so wealthy and powerful that he can unilaterally decide to take money away from the dedicated cast and crew of the popular television series ‘Two and a Half Men’ in order to serve his own ego and self-interest and make the star of the series the scapegoat.”

Lorre is bringing out his own legal big gun, famed lawyer Howard Weitzman, who told TMZ in response, “The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen's rantings in the media. These accusations are simply imaginary. This lawsuit is about a fantasy 'lottery' payday for Charlie Sheen," adding, in an opinion that’s sure to provoke the actor further, "Chuck Lorre's concern has been and continues to be about Mr. Sheen's health."

The suit comes in response to an 11-page dismissal letter sent by Warner Bros. to Sheen on Monday detailing some of his recent rants and warranting that he had committed a felony--although he hasn't been arrested, much less charged with one.

We all know that Charlie is a bad boy and has been in trouble before, not to minimize any of the allegations of violence against women, particularly. But his decadent lifestyle is ancient news--let's say, nearly 25 years old, since Sheen first came on the Hollywood scene--that his employers didn't seem to care about until recently.

It's only a matter of time before some of the roughly 200 crew members of “Two and a Half Men” come forward to tell their stories of what went on on the set--and these actually may work in Sheen's favor. Co-star Holland Taylor has already come out publicly, saying that Sheen was always professional and polite to the cast and crew.

As someone who was on the “Men” set for hours as part of a feature story I was doing on Jon Cryer several years ago, I would concur with that assessment. To claim that Sheen had flubbed some lines and missed some marks in recent weeks is disingenuous to anyone familiar with the inner workings of taping a sitcom. No, there are no David Fincher 50-100 take situations--more like maybe three or four--but no lead actor consistently reels off all of his lines perfectly in one take. Multiple takes are an acceptable part of the process, and taping a three-camera show still moves pretty swiftly, which is why many TV actors relish working in comedy rather than drama.

It's difficult to determine whether the insane level of vitriol and hostility that Sheen has for Lorre is a result of recent events--beginning with the forced hiatus for the actor to undergo rehab--or has been building up over years of the show’s dominant run on CBS. From outward appearances, Lorre seems to have started the battle with his recent vanity card that read "If Charlie Sheen dies before I do, I'll be pissed."

Whether it was the cocaine talking or ego-fueled anger, Sheen started his series of brutal verbal attacks on Lorre by calling in to radio shows before the Charlie Sheen Circus hit the road across all media.

And regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Sheen's lifestyle, his real-life performances over the past few weeks--from network news and talk show appearances to supposedly waving a machete from a Beverly Hills building after a meeting at Live Nation to the widely variant quality of episodes of the online webcast “Sheen’s Korner” and his sudden massive Twitter following--show that he is nothing but authentic. In his words, he's firing "torpedoes of truth."

Unlike many big stars, Sheen has never tried to be anybody that he's not--the talented, funny, profane, wealthy, handsome offspring of a well-connected Hollywood family, who never made any bones about living the “rockstar” lifestyle. Yes, it's complete with trashed hotel suites, ruined relationships, ugly divorces, child custody battles, cocaine, alcohol and hookers--but that's all been out in the open.

Regardless, Sheen has been a multimillion-dollar cash cow for the production company and the network, who face losses of tens of millions of dollars if they cancel “Men” or even put in another actor, thus lowering the production costs.

If Sheen follows the course of sobriety, then makes some wise career choices, this incredibly ugly chapter can have a very happy ending for him--as he plows toward a level of celebrity and notoriety that few have ever achieved. Along the way, there can be T-shirts with catchphrases, there can be cooking shows, and there can also be the “winning” Robert Downey Jr. path--plus so much more. There could also be a complete unhinging, and that would be a painful sight to behold.