Pressed by a deadline to keep TV's most popular sitcom alive after it was derailed by Charlie Sheen's personal troubles, CBS and Warner Bros. Television said Friday that Ashton Kutcher will replace Sheen in "Two and a Half Men."
The show resumes production this summer and will be on CBS' schedule in the fall, with Kutcher playing a new character, not Sheen's Charlie Harper.
The deal apparently came together quickly, following reports earlier this week that negotiations with film actor Hugh Grant to join the show had fallen through. Kutcher is familiar to television audiences through his role on Fox's "That 70s Show," film roles like the romantic comedy "No Strings Attached" and for producing and hosting the prank show "Punk'd."
A deadline on deciding whether the show would continue was looming, with CBS set to unveil its fall schedule to advertisers in New York next Wednesday.
Kutcher is not as well known as Sheen but is 12 years younger and has a huge following of fans who check in on his every utterance on Twitter. He said Friday he believes that "we can fill the stage with laughter that will echo in viewers' homes.
"I can't replace Charlie Sheen but I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people," Kutcher said.
Kutcher's quote was the only mention of Sheen in Friday's news release. Warner cut short the show's eighth season and fired Sheen two months ago following his public implosion through hard partying and angry criticism of show creator Chuck Lorre.
"We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton joining our family," said Lorre, also the show's executive producer. "Added to that is the deep sigh of relief knowing that our family stays together. If I was any happier, it'd be illegal."
Neither Lorre or CBS executives made themselves available to address what sort of character Kutcher would play or how he would be integrated into a show where Sheen's character was the comic center, portraying an advertising jingle writer with a playboy lifestyle not unlike the actor's own. Jon Cryer portrays Sheen's brother, and Angus T. Jones plays Cryer's son.
Sheen offered his replacement a welcome on Friday _ sort of.
"Kutcher is a sweetheart and a brilliant comedic performer ... Oh, wait, so am I," Sheen said.
"Enjoy the show, America," he said. "Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB."
Sheen used TV lingo to predict failure for the revamped "Two and a Half Men." He referred to a 2.0 Nielsen Co. rating among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that advertisers often seek. This season, "Two and a Half Men" averaged a 4.1 rating in that group.
Actually, Kutcher might be expected to have a younger following than Sheen and one which could be curious about his new role. The difficulty might be the older makeup of CBS' audience in general, more Sheen's crowd than Kutcher's.
"He's not a star, I don't think, the way Charlie Sheen is," said Brad Adgate, an analyst for the firm Horizon Media. "He's more like a supporting cast."
Still, Adgate said, "it's a hit show and it's something worth trying before you pack it in. You just never know."
Sheen, in his statement, advised Kutcher to "Enjoy planet Chuck ... There is no air, laughter, loyalty or love there." That's a reference to his feud with former boss Lorre.