What’s Behind the Latest Batch of Rumors About Charlie Sheen Returning to TV?

So, to hear some tabloid websites tell it, the TV business has basically forgotten about all of Charlie Sheen’s astoundingly bad behavior and is now in a race to get him back in prime time. CBS honcho Leslie Moonves, per the musings of Radar Online, is basically begging Charlie Sheen to come back to Two and a Half Men and has told all other parties involved in the dispute to do whatever it takes to make the Warlock happy. Meanwhile, over in Mayor Harvey Levin’s TMZ township, some of the most important brass at Fox met with Sheen and are already discussing how to find a way to have the ex-sitcom star take on Conan, Jay, and Dave with his own late-night show. Sheen isn’t just winning, according to this narrative — he’s practically the most in-demand actor in Hollywood right now! But is any of this true? Let’s break down the likelihoods, rumor by rumor.

First up: the Radar report. CBS and Warner Bros. TV execs declined to comment, even off the record, about the notion that Moonves has offered Sheen his job back. But after talking to a number of industry insiders, we feel comfortable saying that, at the very least, Radar grossly oversimplified anything that may or may not be going on here. For one thing, while Moonves has been a key player in this drama, he doesn’t have the power to simply reinstate Sheen’s employment. That’s because such hiring decisions are the responsibility of Warner Bros. TV, which produces the show and sells it to CBS. In any case, Moonves was intimately involved with the decision to fire Sheen from Two and a Half Men; it makes no sense that he would suddenly decide that Sheen should return without any new development (a trip to a real rehab center or an apology from Sheen, for example.) This doesn’t mean that Radar’s report is completely baseless, our experts say.

It’s possible that a third party may have approached CBS, Warner Bros. and Team Sheen to see if some sort of peace agreement might be reached. When NBC and Conan O’Brien were at war, for example, Universal film chief Ron Meyer stepped in as an honest broker to help cool tensions and negotiate the divorce. Common sense suggests that Moonves and Warner would never reject that sort of overture; after all, Two and a Half Men hasn’t been canceled, nor has Sheen been replaced (yet). In a perfect world, both the network and the studio would love to forget all about Tiger Blood and #winning so that their Monday money machine could resume operations next fall. However, if any such serious conversations were taking place — and both sides genuinely wanted a rapprochement — then it’s likely said talks would have remained secret.

That’s also likely the case with the Fox-Sheen rumblings, which were first reported on by TMZ. The original report here was much less sensationalized than the Radar missive, simply stating that Fox reality overlord Mike Darnell and his boss, Peter Rice, met with Sheen to “brainstorm” potential ideas for a Sheen project, including a late-night show. Vulture (and other websites) have subsequently confirmed that while the meeting did take place, it was actually between Sheen and Fox Sports chief David Hill, who then invited Darnell and Rice to attend; no specific ideas were pitched or greenlit. Either way, had a deal been close at hand, it’s far more likely the talks would’ve remained secret (or they’d have been reported first by an industry bulletin board such as Deadline).

What the TMZ and Radar reports both have in common is that they’re extremely flattering to Team Tiger Blood, and broke in outlets that have been mouthpieces for Sheen in the past. Radar was where we first learned Sheen was talking to Mark Cuban about a show and where Sheen took one of his first on-camera drug tests, while TMZ (part of the same corporate empire that owns Warner Bros. TV) conducted a fawning live interview with Sheen shortly after Warner shut down production on his show. This suggests that sources sympathetic to Sheen may be deliberately leaking out “news” of these developments in order to create the impression that Sheen is in demand around Hollywood at a time when he’s actually without a steady gig. “Sheen’s camp is clearly out there trying to create a marketplace for their client. And the media is lapping it up like a thirsty dog,” one industry vet told Vulture.

While a skeptical response to the latest media noise about Sheen is not unwarranted, it would also be a mistake to simply dismiss the notion that Sheen could yet return to prime time — either on CBS or another network. It’s not by accident that CBS has kept so quiet about the long-term future of Men or that Warner Bros., despite having discussed possible Sheen replacements, has yet to announce a plan to replace him on the show. And it’s also entirely possible that Fox, or another broadcast or cable outlet, might be willing to do a show with Sheen. Cuban, for example, told Access Hollywood today that his HDNet is talking about airing Sheen’s upcoming live tour or developing a reality show for the actor. Cuban also pretty much confirmed our theory on what’s really behind the latest round of Sheen rumors, saying, “I don’t think he’s getting nearly as much credit as he deserves for just how much he’s manipulating the media … to his benefit.”

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What’s Behind the Latest Batch of Rumors About Charlie Sheen Returning to TV?