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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - New "Two and A Half Men" star Ashton Kutcher will play an Internet billionaire with a broken heart when he makes his debut on the hit TV comedy in September, CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler said on Wednesday.
But Tassler declined to confirm or deny reports that the character played by the show's fired star Charlie Sheen would be killed off and given a funeral in the new season premiere.
"I am not going to confirm or deny that...The mystery is part of the marketing. The chatter and the conversation is part of what the fun is going to be," Tassler told television journalists gathered for a bi-annual meeting of critics.
Tassler, speaking publicly for the first time since Sheen's acrimonious departure from the most-watched comedy on U.S. television, depicted the exit of the wayward actor as a way to reinvigorate "Two and A Half Men."
But she acknowledged that it may take time for viewers to embrace the change.
"I don't know necessarily that those (viewership ratings) numbers will be where they once were, but in time I think they will do very well," Tassler said.
And in an apparent dig at Sheen, who was fired after insulting the program's producers and after months of hard partying and trips to rehab, Tassler called Kutcher "an incredible professional."
Asked what CBS, the most-watched TV network in the United States, had learned from the very public dispute with Sheen, Tassler gave a big sigh.
"What we learned is that we have an extraordinary cast, we have extraordinary writers and extraordinary actors and that there is great value in hiring an actor like Ashton Kutcher.
"He is an extraordinary professional, talented, funny gifted actor...and we have an opportunity to create an exciting new character and create a great show."
"Who could have predicted that we would be here six months ago? But the great news is that the show will be as irreverent as it has always been. Our program practices (department) are already on high alert," Tassler said.
Filming of the first episode of the upcoming season is due to take place on Friday. Kutcher's character will be called Walden Schmidt, Tassler said. He will not be related to Sheen's womanizing bachelor character Charlie Harper.
The new season begins on September 19, and the first episode will be broadcast in two parts.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte