By Matthew Belloni
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When attorney Marty
Singer received a phone message last Friday from Warner Bros.
litigator John Spiegel, who said he was calling to discuss
Charlie Sheen, Singer thought perhaps Spiegel wanted to talk
about a possible settlement of the public standoff that had
ground CBS' "Two and a Half Men" to a halt.
After all, two days earlier, Singer had fired off one of
his infamous letters demanding that the studio immediately
resume production of his client's hit sitcom or risk a
multimillion-dollar breach-of-contract lawsuit. So Singer left
Spiegel his own message, saying he was ready to chat.
"He never called me back," Singer told The Hollywood
Instead, on Monday, Warners' legal team messengered to
Singer's office a bombshell 11-page letter abruptly terminating
Sheen's services and pre-emptively initiating an arbitration
proceeding against him. The star's "dangerously
self-destructive behavior" -- including the "disturbing
rampage" at the Plaza Hotel in New York last year, the "banging
7-gram rocks" of cocaine and the all-night parties with
porn-star "goddesses" that caused him to have "difficulty
remembering his lines and hitting his marks" -- rendered Sheen
incapable of working on the show, Warners said, and, thereby,
in default on his contract.
Studio lawyers also wrote that Sheen could be dropped if
executives believed he committed a "felony offense involving
moral turpitude," which he had all but admitted to during his
bizarre, 24/7 media blitz.
Within minutes of its delivery, the letter had been leaked
to the website TMZ, owned by WB parent Time Warner, and Singer
promised to file his own lawsuit against Warners and "Men"
co-creator Chuck Lorre, whom Sheen claims conspired to shut
down the show.
The aggressive move by the studio has set up a legal
showdown featuring some of Hollywood's top attorneys, with
potentially hundreds of millions of dollars from TV's top
comedy on the line. The case will likely play out over weeks or
years regardless of whether Warners recasts the show, as
sources say it is planning to do.
"This is only the beginning," Singer said, previewing his
argument. "You know how many times Charlie has had drug and
rehab problems in the past? This is about the hostility between
Chuck and Charlie that has gone on for years. This is Chuck
conspiring with Warner Bros. (to get rid of him)."
Singer also claimed Lorre had a financial interest in
Sheen's termination. "We believe Chuck Lorre has a better deal
and stands to make more on his other shows ('The Big Bang
Theory' and 'Mike & Molly') than on 'Two and a Half Men,' so he
has an interest in making those shows flourish at the expense
of my client's show," Singer said.
Spiegel, in his first interview since taking on the case
with partner Ron Olson, countered, "This is not about Chuck
Lorre. It's about a serious health issue that has rendered
Charlie Sheen unable to perform the essential duties of his
Meanwhile, Lorre has signed his own lawyer, Howard
Weitzman, a veteran of Hollywood disputes. Asked about Singer's
position, Weitzman said, "That's not a 'winning' argument.
"The conspiracy theory is a pure fantasy," Weitzman added.
"Chuck is very concerned for Charlie's health. We all believe
Warner Bros. did the right thing given the situation Mr. Sheen
The concern for Sheen's health -- rather than his violation
of the "moral turpitude" clause in his deal -- is expected to
be the centerpiece of Warner Bros.' legal argument. Sheen has
been giving the studio more fuel for its case as his public
behavior becomes even more bizarre. Since being fired, Sheen
has declared himself "free at last," climbed to the top of a
Los Angeles building brandishing a machete and smoked a
cigarette through his nose during one episode of his
increasingly disquieting Internet talk show dubbed "Sheen's
Korner." He has also moved to cash in on his new notoriety,
making deals to put new catchphrases such as "fools and trolls"
and "winning" on T-shirts though a licensing deal with Live
Lawyers for WB and Sheen are likely monitoring his behavior
closely; the studio's termination letter included a 10-page
list of links to news articles chronicling Sheen's behavior,
some of which will likely become exhibits in the coming case.
Whether the dispute is litigated in public or private will
likely be the next battleground. Sheen's contract includes a
broad arbitration clause, so Warners on March 4 submitted the
fracas to dispute-resolution company JAMS, which informed both
sides March 7 that it had officially opened a case. The sides
have 14 days to submit their first written arguments, and, once
a neutral arbitrator is chosen, the case would proceed
privately. There's a wrinkle, however. Sheen's contract is with
Warner Bros., not Lorre, so Singer could sue the showrunner for
interfering with Sheen's contract (a separate cause of action
Singer would like the case to be heard publicly. "Our
preference is to go before a judge and jury," he said.
Sheen's recent public spectacles aside, juries tend to
favor well-known figures, and Singer would be able to lob
grenades at WB and Lorre in open court in front of what would
likely be a rapt media -- and, more likely, use that threat to
settle the matter before it gets to a messy trial.
But it is far from clear whether a Sheen lawsuit against
Lorre would proceed separately from the arbitration. Warners
would likely file a motion to compel arbitration, a legal
maneuver designed to consolidate the entire mess into one tidy
-- and private -- proceeding. Lorre is said to support such a
move. Despite being called a "clown" and a "turd" by Sheen,
Lorre is said to prefer that any legal dispute be hashed out in
And while the lawyers duke it out, Warner Bros. is busy
figuring out its next step. Sources close to the show say
reports of John Stamos or Rob Lowe joining the cast are untrue
but that Lorre and Warners execs are telling people "Two and a
Half Men" will likely return in the fall. Existing deals with
CBS and syndicators require both Sheen's and Lorre's
participation in the show, but Warners execs believe those
pacts could be renegotiated if Lorre agreed to return and the
right cast came together. And one thing is certain: At least
the initial ratings next season would be huge.
But with the nasty legal dispute likely still unresolved,
would Lorre want to keep "Men" going?
Said an insider, "If you're Chuck Lorre, who has been
smeared, isn't there part of you that wants to say, 'I'm going
to show this mother------,' and in Episode 1 of the next season
show what he could do to write this guy out of the show?"
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