In the famous 1976 film Network, television executives decide to keep a ranting anchorman on the air despite his obvious declining mental health because his antics are great for ratings. Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch, screams the now famous on-air words written by Paddy Chayefsky, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
If you missed that masterpiece, by all means, add it to your Netflix queue – or tune in to the modern-day, real-life rantings of Charlie Sheen. Sheen, while as delusion if not as sympathetic as the fictional Beale, took to both Good Morning America and the Today show yesterday to defend his actions and give his take on CBS, Warner Brothers and basically the entire planet. Clearly the man is not well, and yet the media cannot resist setting up his crazy town for passersby to take a gander at like some modern day freak show. As Faye Dunaway’s character in Network would say, “Son of a bitch. We’ve struck the motherlode.”
From Anna Nicole to Paula Abdul and beyond, American audiences flock to watch celebrity train wrecks, so the network interest in Sheen isn’t all that, well, interesting. What is fascinating about this hubbub is that thanks to digital PR and social media, the public hears both sides of a dispute and in record time. When the network announced it was suspending production of the show indefinitely due to Sheen’s insane interviews and outbursts, Charlie Sheen launched an online and televised attack. From radio to morning shows, Sheen has blathered on to anyone with a recording device about how wronged he is.
Mistakenly, the network and producers responsible for the show have been playing it close to the vest. Inane as it is, Two and a Half Men is a huge moneymaking machine that employs a lot of people. Translation: Until recently, everyone turned the other cheek to Sheen’s antics so as to not derail a rich gravy train. However, like all great Los Angeles fires, what started out as a small brush fire is now blazing out of control. CBS and Warner Brothers should have aggressively taken Sheen down months ago. A fast firing of the star and some creative rewrites and stunt casting could have solved the Charlie problem. Tweets should have been chirped and posts should have been posted. While a repackage may very well have failed, at least it wouldn’t have brought about this kind of nightmare.
Network ends with Howard Beale being assassinated by network-hired gunmen. While we’re sure nothing of the sort is planned by the suits at CBS, we can see them simultaneously scrambling to find a way to shut the star up while capitalizing on his much-buzzed-about lunacy. Hopefully Sheen will turn his attention to getting the care he needs and America can move on to the next train wreck.
But let’s hear it from you, you publicity-savvy readers. What would you have done to stop Hurricane Charlie? Is Two and Half Men a brand that can be saved? And lastly, how long can we continue to “enjoy” watching stars unravel before our eyes?