LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ashton Kutcher is joining a revamped version of the top-rated TV comedy “Two and A Half Men”, CBS said on Friday, ending months of disarray after the acrimonious firing of wayward star Charlie Sheen.
Kutcher, 33, the husband of actress Demi Moore, is joining the cast for the upcoming ninth season of the money-spinning show that is scheduled for broadcast in the fall of 2011.
Friday’s statement did not say what role Kutcher would play but industry sources said he is not expected to be a direct replacement for Sheen’s womanizing bachelor character.
“We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton joining our family,” Chuck Lorre, creator and executive producer of “Two and A Half Men” said in a statement.
“Two and A Half Men” is the most-watched comedy on U.S. television with about 15 million regular viewers and has been a lucrative source of advertising revenue for CBS, and syndication fees for its makers Warner Bros. Television.
Sheen, who was fired in March after weeks of erratic behavior and for publicly insulting producers, commented bitterly on Friday that the show would tank without him.
“Kutcher is a sweetheart and a brilliant comedic performer ... Oh wait, so am I!”, the actor was quoted as telling celebrity website TMZ.com. “Enjoy the show America. Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB,” Sheen added, referring to the coveted 18-49 age group of viewers.
Production on “Two and A Half Men” was shut down for the remaining eight episodes of the 2010-11 TV season and the future of the show was thrown into doubt after producers made clear that Sheen had no chance of returning.
Friday’s announcement came five days before CBS presents its 2011-12 program line-up to advertisers in New York on May 18.
Kutcher, 33, is best known for his role as a dim-witted stoner in “That ‘70s Show,” a comedy that aired for eight seasons on Fox and remains popular in syndication.
He was last seen in the January romantic comedy movie “No Strings Attached” opposite Natalie Portman. He was an early adopter of Twitter, with a huge following of 6.8 million people.
“I can’t wait to get to work with this ridiculously talented 2.5 team and I believe we can fill the stage with laughter that will echo in viewers’ homes,” Kutcher said in a statement.
“I can’t replace Charlie Sheen but I‘m going to work my ass off to entertain the hell out of people!”, he added.
Some media reports suggested on Friday that Kutcher would get about $1 million per episode for “Men”. But a source familiar with negotiations told Reuters that figure was “ridiculously high.”
Sheen, 45, who has been in and out of drug rehab for the last 12 months, was the highest-paid actor on U.S. television, earning more than $1.2 million per episode.
Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, said Kutcher would bring a “new and distinctive comedic flavor” to the comedy, whose target audience has traditionally been young males.
“We look forward to a great future for this revamped and reenergized show,” Roth said in a statement.
British actor Hugh Grant was reported earlier this week to have pulled out of talks citing “creative differences.” Actors John Stamos, “Entourage” star Jeremy Piven, and Rob Lowe had also been rumored as possible additions.
Twitter was rife with comments about the addition of Kutcher. Eric Stangel, a writer on comedian David Letterman’s TV show, suggested that Sheen should rename his current one-man U.S. tour “Torpedo of Unemployment”.
Editing by Christine Kearney