Last month, the Charlie Sheen saga entered a brand new phase when the Hollywood studio Warner Bros. fired him from the hit CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. At the time he was fired, Sheen was yet to complete about eight episodes in the 24- episode schedule of his latest contract signed in May last year.
A few days after his dismissal from the show, Sheen made good on his vow to sue them “big.” And sue them “big,” he did, both for himself and the show’s out-of-work crew. Sheen hit Warner Bros. and the show’s producer Chuck Lorre with a breach of contract claim for more than $100 million dollars for halting production of the show. The suit also tagged on a claim for punitive damages. Sheen claims he is entitled to be fully paid on his contract whether or not he completed the 24 episodes of the show that his contract required.
So, does Sheen really have the right to get paid for the remaining episodes that he did not work on? Well, so far, the legal experts out there are not answering this question with one voice. But here’s how it looks.
To win his breach of contract action, Sheen will need to show that his contract was valid and that he was able and ready to do his part. Whenever they happen, “punitive damages” are the courts’ way of telling the public not to follow the bad example of the person being punished with the damages.
Warner Bros. claims that it fired Sheen for several reasons which together add up to Sheen being “unable to perform the essential duties of his position.” The studio listed stuff like Sheen having trouble remembering his lines; Sheen missing his rehearsals and sometimes showing up for work with little or no sleep and therefore needing to lean on furniture to maintain his balance. And then there was Sheen’s public behavior and rants against Lorre, which the studio considered as “inflammatory comments poisoning key working relationships.”
Since Sheen’s contract as an actor is a contract for “personal services,” these on-the-job allegations made against him, if true, would mean that Sheen’s actions deprived Warner Bros. of the benefits it expected from his contract and would therefore provide the studio with a good defense to Sheen’s lawsuit. Because, unlike a contract for the sale of goods, where you could perhaps “cover” or replace a nonperforming TV set or car with another one, personal service contracts for artists are regarded as “unique” and so faithful “performance” of the job by the actor or musician under contract is a must-have. Nothing less will do.
Yet, the devil is in the details and Warner Bros.’ case is not looking exactly easy. First, Sheen claims he attempted to return to the series in mid-February but was told that Lorre had not prepared production scripts for the season’s remaining episodes. If true, it would mean that Sheen showed up ready and willing to work but the studio was not.
If this were a scoring game, Sheen would be ahead on points, as long as we are talking about the “remaining episodes” of the show. For starters, most of the studio’s allegations against him are things he did on the show in the past, which the studio itself may already have “acquiesced” in or gone along with since 2003 when the show started its run. Besides, despite Sheen’s alleged (mis)conduct, the show always appeared on TV on its regular schedule and Sheen always appeared to TV audiences to be fine in the role he was playing; and the show remained the highest rated TV sitcom regardless.
Plus, Warner Bros.’ recent gripes about Sheen’s behavior seem a little like Monday morning quarterbacking. For instance, while it was allegedly happening, the studio didn’t suspend him from the show or dock any one of his reported $1.8million paychecks. Nor, was the studio unable to run an episode of the show on its regular schedule because of Sheen’s misconduct. Indeed, some commentators have even suggested that the studio wrote scenes in a number of the episodes to reflect Sheen’s real life bad boy behavior.
If Warner Bros. wanted to fire him without headaches, they went about the whole business the wrong way, it seems. Given Sheen’s history of bad behavior in the past and his recent embarrassing public behavior and shocking rants against Lorre, Sheen was something of a disaster waiting to happen anyway, at least before the remaining episodes were done. But, it looks like Warner Bros. did not have the patience to wait for Sheen to cross the red lines before firing him. They moved too quickly. (Talk about cops arresting a guy just because they believe he’ll beat up his girlfriend any day now. Wrong!)
Perhaps, the case will settle out of court or in arbitration. Otherwise, the odds are running in Sheen’s favor and though he may not get all the money he thinks he’s entitled to receive (or any punitive damages at all), Warner Bros. will likely end up paying him well. But at least, Warner Bros. will have the satisfaction of getting the pesky Sheen out of their system.