With word from CBS that Ashton Kutcher is replacing Charlie Sheen in the hit sitcom "Two and a Half Men" comes the natural question: Will the show retain its popularity?
The actors themselves are weighing in, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.
Kutcher left the TV sitcom world five years ago, becoming a producer and big-screen movie star. In a statement, Kutcher says, "I can't replace Charlie Sheen, but I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people."
Sheen tells celebrity website TMZ.com the show will tank in the ratings without him, adding that Kutcher "is a sweetheart and a brilliant comic performer. ... Oh, wait, so am I!"
Variety Assistant Managing Editor Stuart Levine observed to CBS News that, "If Ashton fits in and people accept him for the show, who's to say it can't go on for another at least three or four more years?"
Sheen was pulling in nearly $2 million an episode. Kutcher is rumored to be making half that, Tracy notes.
"I think (Kutcher will) he'll be fine," TV Guide Business Editor Stephen Battaglio told "Early Show on Saturday Morning" co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis. "Look: It's the No. 1 comedy on television. (You're) not gonna walk away from it if you don't have to. (It's) much harder to launch a new show. So CBS was highly-motivated to get a big star to step in for Charlie Sheen, and they've succeeded. This is a guy who's very popular. He's known to the audience. People like him. They're certainly gonna give it a chance."
Kutcher, Battaglio pointed out, "was very early on the Twitter bandwagon. He had 7 million followers, close to that. And he'll be able to corral them to the show. It certainly will help in building anticipation."
The 7 million followers, Battaglio noted, is "many more" than Sheen has.
Changing stars mid-stream "can work" for shows, he added, though he cautioned that, "A lot of the shows that have done this are from a different era of television. 'M*A*S*H*' was a show that had a large ensemble cast, and they had a lot of changes over the years. Wayne Rogers left, he was replaced. McLean Stevenson wasreplaced by Harry Morgan. Mike Farrell came in for Wayne Rogers. But it was a large, ensemble show, and Alan Alda was always at the center, and the show remained popular right until the very end."
Another successful transition was made by "Bewitched."
"That's the most bizarre one," Battaglio said. "It was the same guy. It was Elizabeth Montgomery's husband. And it was just a different actor in the role. The first actor, Dick York, became ill and couldn't go on. So the last three seasons were finished by Dick Sargent and, you know, the audience was much more forgiving then. Today, you would be reading endless blogs comparing the two online. This was the 1960s, it was a different time. And the audience just accepted it."
Another example? "Cheers."
"Shelley Long was on it for a few years," Battaglio said, "and she left the show to pursue a movie career. ... The show (actually) became more popular when Kirstie Alley took over."
Could that happen with Kutcher in "Two and a Half Men"?
"Well," Battaglio replied, " 'Two and a Half Men' is long-in-the-tooth. It's been around for eight seasons. So, there's a natural aging process that a show goes through. But, again, if it's funny, people will be there. That's what people want out of this show. They want to laugh."