NEW YORK -- "Two and a Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre introduced Ashton Kutcher as a new star of television's most popular comedy on Monday, and gained a measure of revenge against the departed Charlie Sheen in the process.
How Sheen's character Charlie Harper would be killed off was a closely-held secret and it was revealed right away during the season premiere: he slipped on a subway platform in Paris and was hit by an oncoming train.
"His body just exploded like a balloon full of meat," Harper's obsessed neighbor Rose explained.
The episode aired as a real-life drama played out: Sheen and the studio that fired him were apparently drawing closer to a deal to end their legal dispute.
According to a person familiar with the talks, Sheen and Warner Bros. were near an agreement but still at work on it Monday. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Calls to Sheen's attorney were not returned. In a statement, the studio said no deal had been reached and declined further comment.
Sheen filed a $100 million lawsuit for wrongful termination against Warner after his firing, which followed bitter public tirades directed at the studio and Lorre, the show's executive producer.
A judge ordered arbitration in the case, with a status report set for December.
The Los Angeles Times reported that final touches are being put on a deal that would give Sheen about $25 million to settle out of his contract.
Sheen was the highest-paid actor in television, with a per-episode salary reported to be between $1.2 million to $2 million.
His clash with producers cut short last season for the CBS series that is the highest-rated comedy on U.S. television.
Sheen went on his spectacular, insult-spewing rampage against Lorre and CBS after he was fired for drug use and erratic behavior earlier this year.
Lorre took the arrows silently until Monday night.
The show opened with Jon Cryer, who played ad writer Harper's sad-sack brother Alan, speaking at Charlie's wake in front of a coffin and one of Sheen's signature shirts. Alan said that it was a sad day for everyone.
"Speak for yourself," one woman shouted from the audience.
Harper said that his brother gave everything he got in life and women called out sexual diseases that they had contracted from him.
Later, Harper's housekeeper noted that all he had ever asked for was "clean sheets and hosing the vomit off the occasional drug-addled hooker."
The character of Charlie Harper was always considered a thinly-veiled version of Sheen in real life. Lorre's script drove that point home with little romance or sentimentality. After a delivery man brings Harper's ashes in a golden urn, Alan has a conversation and says it was "just like old times. I'm talking and you're in a bottle ignoring me." He considered how to dispose of the ashes, perhaps sprinkling them on the nearby beach.
"It's simple, dignified, and pretty girls with oil will be sitting on you all day," Alan said. "It's kind of like your life except for the dignified part."
When Kutcher surprises Cryer's character by appearing at the doorway, Charlie's ashes are spilled all over the floor.
Lorre's barbs come just as Sheen has been expressing contrition in recent days. He said on the "Tonight" show that he would have fired himself if he was in charge at CBS or the show's producer. On the Emmy Awards telecast Sunday, he said he wanted to sincerely wish Kutcher and his old colleagues good luck for the new season.
Lorre packed his show with a couple of inside jokes. John Stamos plays a potential buyer of Harper's house who backs off when he finds out who lived there. Stamos was widely considered a possible successor to Sheen before Kutcher was hired.
Actors Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson also appeared as potential buyers, playing their old characters Dharma and Greg, a Lorre-produced series that aired on ABC from 1997 to 2002.
Kutcher plays Internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, who made his appearance wet from a suicide attempt in the ocean. It seems Schmidt may be tall, good looking and rich, but he's morose about a lost love.
Kutcher joins right in on the sex jokes that are the show's stock in trade. He walks around naked, and other characters comment on his anatomy. Alan Harper takes Schmidt out to drink, where Schmidt meets two women and brings them to Harper's home.
"I dig your house," he said. "I'm going to buy it."
That appears to set up the second episode, explaining how Schmidt comes to live with two people he doesn't know in a house he just saw.