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Sheen's off-screen antics apparently don't affect job on 'Two and a Half Men'

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 12:00 AM

PASADENA, CALIF.

CBS is on Orange Alert over Charlie Sheen's partying ways, but his off-camera activities have not affected his job as star of the country's most popular comedy, CBS programming chief Nina Tassler told TV critics attending Winter Press Tour 2011.

"We have a high level of concern - how could we not?" Tassler told TV critics when they got all Ladies of River City on her.

The knickers-knotted critics had jumped on Tassler right off the bat during her Q&A session, with urgent questions about the "Two and a Half Men"-star-on-bender-with-porn-star reports that have gripped the nation for weeks and months.

Sheen's been a godsend for the celebrity suck-up industry, providing such TV shows as "Entertainment Tonight," Web sites such as Deadline.com and magazines such as Us Weekly and People with gobs of ongoing stories - all this in the wake of Sheen's guilty plea to assaulting his wife in Aspen, Colo., and rearranging a New York hotel suite while partying with a porn star and, of course, last weekend's partying in Las Vegas.

"I really didn't expect that question this morning, so I'm really taken by surprise," Tassler could not resist joking when she took the first Charlie Sheen Is a Brazen Reprobate question, which went like this: "How would you characterize the level of concern and what the network is doing to help him?"

"On a basic human level, there is concern - this man is a father, he has children, he has a family. Obviously, there's concern on a personal level," Tassler said.

"But you can't look at it simplistically," she added.

Too late.

"Charlie is a professional. He comes to work. He does his job extremely well. . . . It's very complicated," Tassler continued, insisting that she has "tremendous trust and respect" for how Warner Bros., which produces the show, has been "managing the situation."

Warner Bros. is managing this situation?

"On a personal level, we're concerned - on a professional level, he does his job and he does it well and the show's a hit, and that's all I have to say. Next question."

You can see why TV critics are so concerned. This season, operating under the cloud of Sheen's shenanigans, "Two and a Half Men" has remained the country's most popular comedy series and the cornerstone of CBS's Monday schedule, growing its audience by 2 percent this season over last, and attracting about 15 million people each week.

They might be 'Giants'

Major League Baseball Productions will produce a reality series for Showtime that documents the 2010 World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, during the 2011 baseball season - a deal that got made in part because the team's manager is a big fan of the high-school football series "Friday Night Lights."

Showtime's newish programming chief, David Nevins, was an exec producer on "Friday Night Lights." (Nevins snagged the job last summer.)

Showtime, on the other hand, will not telecast the Kennedy miniseries commissioned and then yanked by History Channel - even though that program hails from "24" creator Joel Surnow. Fox's "24" was produced by Imagine TV when Nevins was president of that operation; Nevins also was an exec producer on "24."

"I looked at it seriously, and I thought it was well-acted, well-made and very watchable," Nevins said of "The Kennedys" while speaking to TV critics at Winter Press Tour 2011.

"What it really came down to was, it didn't feel Showtime," Nevins said.

It didn't feel History Channel, either, according to that basic cable network, which announced recently that "while the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand."

According to Nevins, it did not feel "premium cable," either.

"I have great respect and love for Joel Surnow - known him for many years - but it didn't fundamentally feel 'us,' " Nevins told the critics, who were too beaten down by 10 days of Press Tour to fight back.

"I made the vow coming in to focus on renewable scripted resources. You give up that focus at your peril," Nevins added.

Meanwhile, the collaboration between Showtime and MLB Productions is in production, he said. Cameras will attend spring training and will be "embedded" with the team during baseball season, while also covering the teammates' wives, girlfriends and parents. Speedy editing of spring-training footage will allow the series' scheduled premiere to coincide with the opening of the 2011 season.

"MLB Productions is going to produce the show. Obviously they have some control," Nevins said, when one critic worked up enough gumption to ask whether Major League Baseball would have creative control over the project.

Nevins said he's been working on the baseball project since his first day on the job last summer. Initially, Showtime approached several teams but when the Giants won the Series, that "made them the compelling choice."

"It helped that [manager Bruce] Bochy was a big fan of 'Friday Night Lights,' " Nevins acknowledged.

One critic gave him an opening to gloat about Showtime's having nabbed far more series nominations for Sunday's Golden Globe Awards than did rival pay-cable network HBO.

"It's swinging in our direction right now," Nevins agreed. But he did not rise to the bait. "HBO is aggressive and they always have good stuff in the bullpen. These things ebb and flow.

"I think it's interesting coming to into a network that is healthy - it's not how regime change generally happens in television," Nevins marveled of his new gig.

He was named to the job after the departure of Bob Greenblatt - who has since been named head of programming at NBC by Comcast, which is now jumping through regulatory hoops as part of its purchase of NBC Universal.

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