Charlie Sheen sues Warner Bros. and producer Chuck Lorre
Charlie Sheen's wrongful-termination lawsuit against Warner and Chuck Lorre could reveal some of Hollywood's juicy financial secrets.
The wrongful-termination suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, threatens to pull the curtain from the financial secrets behind the show and provide a glimpse of Tinseltown's wheeling and dealing.
"There is a lot that Charlie Sheen may believe is private and personal, and all that would come out as would the secret sauce of how Warner Bros. does its deals for one of the biggest hits on television," said Jonathan E. Stern, a USC law professor.
Sheen filed the suit against Warner Bros. and Chuck Lorre, the co-creator and executive producer of "Two and a Half Men."
The suit came in response to Warner Bros.' decision Monday to fire Sheen from the show he has starred in since 2003. In a letter to Sheen's lawyer Martin Singer, attorneys for Warner Bros. said that the actor had been dismissed because of "erratic behavior" and that his "declining condition" had "undermined the show's production in numerous and significant ways."
Tensions have been escalating for years among Sheen, CBS, Warner Bros. and Lorre as Sheen's off-camera escapades became more frequent. The situation reached a boiling point two months ago when the series was placed on hiatus so Sheen could attend to health and substance-abuse issues.
Warner Bros. said Sheen was unable to work and "had difficulty remembering his lines." The actor's lawsuit countered Thursday that Sheen was fired at the behest of Lorre, who he said had been "engaged in a pattern and practice of disseminating harassing, derogatory and highly inflammatory comments" about Sheen.
In his suit, Sheen alleges that his ability to work and his lifestyle were never an issue in the past and that it was only when he began to publicly ridicule Lorre and others involved in the production of "Two and a Half Men" that he ran afoul of the producer and studio.
Warner Bros., Singer said in the suit, "was quite happy to line its coffers and employ Charlie Sheen ... even while he was obtaining treatment … was the subject of salacious gossip stories … and even while Mr. Sheen faced a looming potential felony conviction."
Only after Sheen "deigned to criticize Lorre," the suit said, did Warner Bros. capitulate to the producer's "egotistical desire" to punish Sheen.
The actor has called Lorre, among other things, a "stupid little man" and a "clown."
Bad blood between the producer and star isn't the only grounds Sheen's suit cites. Sheen's camp alleges that Lorre, who also produces "The Big Bang Theory" and "Mike & Molly" for Warner Bros., has more to gain financially by focusing on those two shows than on "Two and a Half Men."
"The allegations in the complaint against Mr. Lorre are as recklessly false and unwarranted as Mr. Sheen's rantings in the media," Lorre's attorney Howard Weitzman said in a statement. "These accusations are simply imaginary."
Warner Bros., which declined to comment, has previously indicated to Sheen and his lawyer that it believes its contract with the actor calls for arbitration and has moved forward on that front.
In the past, the studio stood by Sheen during his legal scrapes, stints in rehab and ugly divorces. Now its challenge will be proving that he was no longer capable of acting in front of the camera.
"It has to be fairly disturbing before a judge is going to say you couldn't perform," said Bert Fields, a veteran entertainment industry attorney often involved in high-profile cases.
Sheen's challenge may be even more difficult, however. He needs to show that Lorre, who has made a fortune from "Two and a Half Men," was willing to take money out of his own pocket to spite his star.