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Charlie Sheen’s gnarly future

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

As long as Charlie Sheen remains conscious, the outrageousness marches on. His publicist quit. The twins were removed from his home, although the goddesses are presumably still in danger. Charlie’s taken to Twitter. Online, his folksy wisdom about tiger blood and gnarly bi-winning has been coming out of the mouths of kittens, bunnies, baby sloths, superheroes and Charlie Brown.

And despite the media overanalyzing every imaginable angle, “Two and a Half Men” fans still have questions. The main one being, “What?”

Let’s take a breather and try to sort a few things out.

Was Charlie worth the trouble?

For a wild and crazy guy, all reports have been that he is usually a professional on the set and never late on the “money days” of filming. But producers were right to be concerned about the guy. He entered rehab three times in a one-year period and recently showed up on the set “a little sideways,” in Charlie’s own words.

But he’s great in the role, and pretty close to irreplaceable (although “I’ve got magic and poetry in my fingertips” may be a bit of an overstatement). Compare Charlie to Jon Cryer, a proven, Emmy-winning talent who couldn’t be more lovable. But can he carry a show? No.

What should CBS do?

“It’s the No. 1 comedy on television, and a huge moneymaker for CBS,” says Michael Schneider of TV Guide, who’s covering the story in Los Angeles. “It’s a billion-dollar business for Warner Bros.,” which owns the show. Translation: Let’s not be hasty here.

“The ideal situation would be that ‘Two and a Half Men’ continues, and with Charlie Sheen on it,” Schneider says. “Maybe not now, but by fall? It’s Hollywood, so anything’s possible.”

Les Moonves, the head of CBS, doesn’t seem to be in panic mode. “Short term, it’s actually financially a gainer for us,” he told analysts Tuesday, since the network saves money it would have spent on the season’s eight canceled episodes. “I’m not saying long term I want this to go on, or it’s great. Going down the road, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope it’s back. We’ll see.”

Could the show go on without Charlie?

It could in theory, says Walter Podrazik, the Chicago author of Watching TV. “Cheers” was a show about Sam and Diane until Shelley Long left. After that, “It was basically, ‘We’re going to try to replicate the sexual tension element with Sam and Rebecca’ -- but it ain’t happening,” Podrazik says. “Instead, ‘Cheers’ becomes totally ensemble. It becomes a different show. You could even think of the second phase of ‘Cheers’ as the first spinoff of ‘Cheers.’ ”

Even 1986’s “Valerie” survived without star Valerie Harper. NBC dismissed her over creative differences, then killed off her character in a car accident. Sandy Duncan took over as the boys’ aunt in the retitled “The Hogan Family” for three more seasons.

“Two and a Half Men” has more than just Charlie Sheen going for it. It also has the blessed Monday night comedy slot that’s been inhabited by “I Love Lucy,” “MASH,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and so on.

“Monday’s always been a good night for CBS and comedy,” Podrazik says. “It’s a good formula. As long as it continues to deliver what it’s supposed to deliver, people will watch.”

Who benefits from this brouhaha?

Any publicity is good publicity, except “Two and a Half Men” doesn’t have any new episodes to promote. No matter. Last Monday, a rerun won the night with 11.6 million viewers, while “The Bachelor” and the announcement of the new “Dancing With the Stars” cast pulled in 11.4 million. If anything, Charlie was in competition with himself, with a live interview on “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

The controversy could be good for the show, with even non-watchers tuning in to see what the fuss is all about. And the prospects for “Mike & Molly,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory” are rising, as they’re eyed as possible new anchors for Monday night.

Has Charlie torpedoed his career?

Although the character of Charlie was similar to the real-life decadent Charlie, these rants may have eclipsed the sitcom’s benign naughtiness. Will audiences still chuckle at the fictional scamp, or will they be unable to separate him from Charlie’s violent past with women, his drug issues, his disrespect for his employers and the borderline anti-Semitic comments? Have we even gotten over him calling the official version of 9/11 “an absolute fairy tale” yet?

Then again, if we chose all our entertainment based on pleasant personalities, no one would ever watch sports.

What are these “Vatican assassin warlocks” of which Charlie speaks?

You don’t want to know.

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