The playbook for celebrities behaving badly usually goes like this: star misbehaves, tabloids go wild covering every rumor, star gets dropped by producers and advertisers. But Charlie Sheen, the star of Two and a Half Menon CBS , is breaking the playbook with his latest behavior, which included trashing a room at the pricey Plaza Hotel in New York while his two young daughters slept across the hall.
Despite the tabloid coverage, advertisers aren't fleeing his show, nor will they anytime soon.
As long as viewers keep flocking to Two and a Half Men, Sheen will continue to draw top prices from advertisers.
It also doesn't hurt that his character on the show, Charlie Harper, embodies the bad-boy type, making it easier for viewers to shrug off his real-life behavior — unlike Tiger Woods, whose squeaky-clean image was deeply damaged when his infidelities became public.
"Is Charlie Sheen really acting?" says Horizon Media research director Brad Adgate. "That's why he doesn't win any Emmys — he's not acting."
Numbers in Sheen's Favor
The strength of Sheen's ability to overcome his off-screen transgressions lies in the show's numbers, Adgate points out. For the television season that began last month, Two and a Half Men is the top-rated comedy with viewers between the ages of 18 to 49 years old, the demographic which remains the holy grail for advertisers, according to data from Nielsen. Including all ages, the show draws about 15.2 million viewers each week, while the No. 2 comedy among all viewers, CBS's The Big Bang Theory, attracts 14.5 million people each week.
Those numbers have made Two and a Half Men CBS' priciest comedy this year, according to Advertising Age. The show commands a price of roughly $207,000 per 30-second commercial from advertisers, while The Big Bang Theory follows close behind with $195,000.
"Is Charlie Sheen really acting...That's why he doesn't win any Emmys — he's not acting.""
For CBS, the average age of viewers of Sheen's show makes the program indispensable, points out Adgate.
The network has an average viewer age of 55 — considered ancient by advertisers seeking viewers under the 49-year old cut-off. But Two and a Half Men has an average viewer age under 50, giving it that magic demographic appeal to sponsors.
Consumers Are Mum, but Critics Aren't Happy
And consumers, too, may be getting used to shrugging off Sheen's antics. After all, his latest misadventure, which included hosting a woman who is reportedly a porn star, is the second big tabloid blow-up for Sheen in the last 12 months. The actor's estranged wife, Brooke Mueller, accused Sheen of threatening her with a knife on Christmas Day.
But the fact that advertisers aren't abandoning the program now may be masking a long-term change to the show's sponsor base, points out Melissa Henson, the director of communications for the Parents Television Council, which advocates for family-friendly TV shows. She says her group has been working for several years to contact sponsors with the goal of getting them to remove their support for the program. "It's not because of Charlie Sheen, but because of the content of the show," she says. "Many of the sponsors who would have been concerned have probably pulled their ads already, and whatever [the show] has left, beer companies or what have you, may be less sensitive to these concerns and behaviors."
As a rule, she adds, the PTC stays away from commenting on stars' private behavior, although the group did issue a statement earlier this month protesting the stars of Gleeposing in risque photos in GQ magazine. "The Glee photo shoot was exceptional in that they had these kids posed in their high school personas," she says. But as for Two and a Half Men, the PTC prefers to focus on the show's content. "Unless a kid is reading celebrity gossip sites, it probably won't make an impact," Henson says.