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Can Sheen be replaced? Watch

By Ed Bark, Special to CNN
  • TV critic Ed Bark asks if "Two and a Half Men" can survive loss of Sheen: He says yes
  • Executive producer Lorre dissed by Sheen, likely open to reinventing show without him
  • He says it's worked before: Sheen replaced Fox on "Spin City;" "ER," "CSI," have done it
  • Bark: Sheen has been central to show, but it may be that John Stamos, Rob Lowe can step in

Editor's note: Ed Bark, former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News, launched the TV website in September 2006.

(CNN) -- The operative question has shifted. It's no longer whether "Two and a Half Men" possibly could go on with Charlie Sheen. Now CBS and Warner Bros. Television must decide whether prime-time's most-watched sitcom can go on without him.

I'm betting it can. Or at least that both the network and the production company behind "Two and a Half Men" will boldly re-launch the show in some form this fall.

Sheen, fired Monday by Warner Bros., of course deems himself indispensable while continuing to avidly and pointedly dismiss "Two and a Half Men's" creator, Chuck Lorre, as a talentless boob. (Warner Bros. Television is a division of Time Warner Inc., also the parent company of CNN.)

Lorre, also the mind behind CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" and this season's new "Mike & Molly," probably needs no further impetus than such treatment to take on the challenge of re-inventing a show whose next season already has been sold into syndication.

At one point, Lorre said he had no interest in doing a "One and a Half Men" version of the series without the problematic Sheen front and center. But that was then. Now Sheen has pretty much challenged Lorre's manhood, not to mention his proven abilities to devise and shepherd successful sitcoms.

There is plenty of precedent for shows carrying on when a star leaves.

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Re-constituting "Two and a Half Men" would be a formidable challenge for all concerned, but could it really be much tougher than continuing "The Office" next season without star Steve Carell, who's leaving after fulfilling his seven-year contract? NBC hasn't yet disclosed if a new actor will be brought in to replace Carell or whether the current cast will close ranks and try to successfully go on without him.

Fox also faced the major question of whether "American Idol" could still dominate the prime-time ratings without acerbic judge Simon Cowell. But the ongoing 10th edition is humming along and still squashing everything in its path with new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.

CBS likewise had to reboot when William Petersen became weary of his lead role on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and left the hit series midway through its 2008-'09 season. Laurence Fishburne stepped in to play a different character, and the show is still going relatively strong. Two NBC mainstays, "Law & Order" and "ER," earlier survived the complete demolitions of their charter casts.

Despite his ultra-inflated opinion of himself, Sheen knows full well that big TV stars can be replaced. In 2000 he was plugged into ABC's "Spin City" after Michael J. Fox left the hit comedy series after disclosing he had Parkinson's disease. Sheen was cast as the show's new deputy mayor, who also just happened to be a trouble-prone womanizer. "Spin City" lasted for two more years. A year later, Sheen landed his signature TV role, the womanizing Charlie Harper on "Two and a Half Men."

It can be argued that replacing Sheen is a much steeper mountain to climb. Could anyone else have stepped in for Larry Hagman, for instance, and played J.R. Ewing on "Dallas?" Could "Magnum, P.I." have gone on without Tom Selleck in the title role?

I'm convinced, though, that CBS will take another shot with "Two and a Half Men." After all, the network didn't cancel this still very valuable property in tandem with dismissing Sheen. That tells you something.

Two all-purpose plug-ins, John Stamos and Rob Lowe, have been most widely mentioned as possible replacements. Tim Daly and Neil Patrick Harris also might be well-suited to fill Sheen's shoes, but they're otherwise occupied as the respective co-stars of ABC's "Private Practice" and CBS' "How I Met Your Mother." Sheen endorses Lowe

Stamos' latest gig is a recurring role on Fox's "Glee." Lowe is a supporting player on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" and Showtime's "Californication," both of which have finished production on their ongoing seasons. Last year Lowe was a regular cast member on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters." Consider them both guns for hire, and at a fraction of the $2 million per episode that Sheen reportedly was making.

Whatever happens, it seems likely that CBS would hire a known quantity -- rather than a relative unknown -- in any effort to make "Two and a Half Men" whole again. If anything, Sheen's constant goading of his former bosses has only served to light their fuses.

Can anyone be replaced? Testing one, two, "Two and a Half Men."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Bark.

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