Celebrities, Entertainment Law, Fame Brief, Lunacy, Munger Tolles & Olson, Television

Busy Lawyer’s Guide to Charlie Sheen’s Bitchin’ Termination Letter

You don’t have to be a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars to have predicted that Warner Bros. — the company that produces Two and a Half Angry Men and, not un-coincidentally, Looney Tunes — would fire Charlie Sheen from the show. And on Monday, that’s exactly what happened. Writing on behalf of Warner Bros., Munger Tolles (specifically, partner John Spiegel) fired off an 11-page letter immediately axing Charlie from Two and a Half Laughs, Ever Men.

But even if someone wields a machete from a roof or requests a battle in the Octagon, you can’t necessarily fire him for cause just because he’s crazy. For instance, Tom Cruise jumps on couches and he has gone on to not be fired from several lackluster movies, most notably Valkyrie. Warner Bros. needs cause to fire Charlie under his $1.8 million per episode contract, and in the letter, they offer up a kitchen sink of it.

A lot rides on the outcome here: if Charlie prevails in arbitration and proves that Warner Bros did not have cause to fire him, he stands to get paid for the ten remaining episodes in the show’s ninth (!!) season. And if the reports are accurate, he also has a “Michael J. Fox” clause in his contract, which specifically permits a washed-up 80s actor to continue to draw paychecks from humorless sitcoms that remain in production after the actor has left the show to fade into obscurity – a hold over from the days when Sheen replaced Fox in Spin City and Fox continued to get paid. If Warner Bros. prevails, they may seek 10 episodes worth of lost revenue from Charlie, though admittedly it will be difficult to convince an arbitrator that anybody watches the show, must less pays to advertise on it.

In any event, down to brass tacks. Here are the various allegations Warner Bros. makes in the termination letter to assert that they have cause to fire Charlie under his contract, along with my evaluation of their merits….

Incapacity/Essential Duties. The contract defines Incapacity as “any physical or mental disabilities which due to the unique nature of the Performer’s Obligations, are not subject to reasonable accommodation and which render Performer unable to perform the essential duties.” Warner Bros. claims that among other things, Sheen’s 20-pound weight loss because of a Christmas bender, showing up to work exhausted and calling his boss a “turd” incapacitated him to the point where he is unable perform his essential duties. I say, show me a person who has not done all of the foregoing, and I’ll show you a liar. The studio greatly overestimates the amount of skill required to star in this shitcom. If Charlie showed up on set alive, he was 99.9% of the way there. Christopher Reeve back from the dead but still paralyzed could do the job. Verdict: Weak.

Failure to perform material obligations because of his “condition, conduct and statements.” Again, since Charlie’s only obligations were to wear ugly bowling shirts and occasionally break the fourth wall and mug for the camera, he would literally have to be dead in order to fail to perform his material obligations. And even then there’s the Weekend at Bernie’s argument to be made. Verdict: Weak.

Refusal to work. Warner Bros. claims that Charlie’s flippant statement in an interview that he would not work on season nine “with the turds that are currently in place” constitutes refusal to work. By this logic, Charlie is also an F-18 airplane with Adonis DNA and 100% authentic Tiger Blood. Apparently, Warner Bros. is unable to appreciate hyperbole and metaphors, as best demonstrated by Two and a Half Men. Verdict: Really Weak.

“Force Majeure.” Charlie’s “condition, conduct, admissions and statements” are certainly beyond the control of Warner Bros. and may interfere with production, but do they rise to the level of a war or a volcano erupting? Maybe. Charlie did declare war on Chuck Lorre, the show’s co-creator. Verdict: Medium.

Failure to perform material obligations regarding publicity. Charlie’s contract requires that all statements to the press go through the producer, or otherwise be non-derogatory. Alright, fine, Warner Bros. — you can have this one. Verdict: Strong.

Committing a felony involving moral turpitude (is there another kind?). The studio claims that it reasonably and in good faith believes that Charlie committed a felony, namely furnishing cocaine to others. Please. Charlie has committed plenty of felonies, including felony domestic assault on his wife LAST YEAR (he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault as part of a plea bargain), none of which bothered Warner Bros. a whit until Charlie started mocking Chuck Lorre. In fact, as Sheen’s lawyer points out, Warner Bros. renegotiated Sheen’s contract for another season (!!) of this odious show while he pleaded guilty to holding a knife to his wife’s throat. You can’t just go around cherry picking your principal whacktor’s felonies whenever you feel like it, and frankly, before Warner Bros. starts accusing people of morally reprehensible acts, it needs to take a good look in the mirror and cancel One Tree Hill, Veronica Mars, and other crimes. Verdict: Fail.

On balance, I think it’s likely that Charlie will prevail against the producers, and at a minimum draw paychecks for the remaining 10 episodes of the season. Commenters, what do you think?

Epilogue: When I started drafting this post, I had great hopes that Charlie’s exit would mark the end of our enslavement by this deeply offensive show. But then I refreshed TMZ and saw that Rob Lowe is on the short list of actors to replace Sheen. Our national nightmare continues.

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