Ashton Kutcher’s Rumored ‘Two and a Half Men’ Deal: Is He Still Worth It?

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As reported earlier this week by Celebuzz, Ashton Kutcher is expected to sign on for another season of Two and a Half Men after taking over for a disruptive Charlie Sheen last September.

The deal, which will likely become official before CBS’ Upfronts presentation, on May 16, will reportedly earn Ashton around $700,000 per-episode, according to Deadline — not surprising, considering his status in Hollywood.

Still, despite Ashton’s record-setting debut last year — his first episode drew a staggering 28 million viewers, Two and a Half Men’s biggest audience to date — viewership has fallen off significantly under his lead; on April 9, the show hit a series low, drawing just 10.39 million viewers, while last week’s episode fared only slightly better, with 11.25 million viewers.

With that in mind, and with Ashton’s multi-million deal imminent, Celebuzz had to ask: Is he still worth all that money?

“Absolutely not,” said Maggie Furlong, TV Editor for The Huffington Post. “Although, given that his predecessor, Charlie Sheen, was pulling in $1.2 million an episode on the show, I guess Kutcher is a bargain.”

“Still, as network TV ratings go down across the board, shows are looking for more reasonable salary requirements from their stars — how many ratings-grabbing shirtless or naked Ashton Kutcher scenes will $700,000 an episode buy you?” she added.

Furlong’s Huffington Post colleague, Maureen Ryan, disagrees, claiming that Kutcher’s hefty paycheck will pay off in the long run.

Two and a Half Men is still, I would guess, very profitable for the studio and the network making the show, or else they wouldn’t be paying that more-or-less insane price. Don’t forget that this is a show that does incredibly well in syndication … There’s still a lot of gold to be made in the show’s post-CBS life cycle. The more episodes that get made, the more coin in the studio’s pocket for the long term.”

Todd VanDerWerff of The AV Club proposed a similar stance, arguing that CBS can’t afford to lose the show just yet.

“Comedy is ascendant right now, and even if the show’s days as the strongest comedy on TV are over, it’s still an incredibly important tentpole in the CBS Monday lineup,” he said.

Last March, Charlie Sheen was fired from Two and a Half Men, then the top-rated comedy on television, after he made a number of disparaging comments about the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre.

Then, in May, amid a fury of Internet reports, Kutcher was confirmed as Sheen’s official replacement on the series — which, naturally, required the show to be somewhat retooled. (In the season 9 premiere, it was revealed that Sheen’s character, Charlie, died in a freak accident, making room for Kutcher’s character — Internet billionare Walden Schmidt — to move in after his wife kicked him out.)

What began as a more-than-promising start for Kutcher quickly transpired into floundering ratings — not to mention a sea of tabloid drama after it was reported that Ashton had cheated on his wife of six years, Demi Moore, with multiple women. (Moore has since filed for divorce.)

Nowadays, as the show approaches its ninth season finale, both Furlong and Ryan agree that Kutcher, 34, won’t be able to save the show.

“Kutcher made a big splash when he joined the show — fans were curious, and seeing him naked onscreen with bits blurred out certainly made headlines, but that was a one-and-done kind of stunt,” Furlong told Celebuzz. “I honestly don’t see the ratings improving next year. The fans have spoken, they don’t like the show without Charlie Sheen and this season should be the last.”

“I think it’s a case of the writers coming up with more entertaining and amusing things for his character to do — that’s really the true challenge, in my opinion,” said Ryan. “I’m not sure the ratings are going to go up at all next season, but if the writers and producers could get things to the point where the show stabilizes in the ratings and doesn’t fall any further, I’m betting the powers that be will count that as a win.”

“The show’s ratings were already trending downward–natural, for a show this old–but that was thrown off by the ratings blip that was the Charlie Sheen situation, which threw all of the numbers off,” added VanDerWerff. “At this point, the only thing that could reverse the slide would be a Sheen guest appearance, and we know that’s not going to happen.

As for whether the show will actually go beyond a tenth season, Furlong and Ryan remain pessimistic.

“I can only see Ashton Kutcher and the show itself lasting another season — max,” said Furlong. “Ten seasons of any show is an impressive feat; I’d say they should quit while they’re ahead, but they already missed that, so they should quit before they’re any more behind.”

“If the ratings stabilize next season or even go up a tick, the show might continue beyond next season,” said Ryan. “But it’s very much a season-to-season renewal situation right now — there’s no guarantee that it’ll come back after next season, not at all. After next year, everyone might just pick up their giant, giant sacks of money and go home.”

VanDerWerff, however, thinks the show could last a little longer.

“Realistically, I think there are probably two years left in the show. It’s enormously unusual for a sitcom to run more than 11 seasons,” he said. “As a show gets older, the natural stop points seem to come around years 7, 9, and 11 (probably because of how production deals are structured), and I would be very surprised to see the show run past the spring of 2014.”

“That said, it’ll be one of the longest runs for a comedy ever, most of it in a time when comedy was ‘dead’ on TV, so everyone involved should feel nothing but pride at the longevity, including Kutcher, who saved the show at a time when it could have very easily collapsed,” he added. “It’ll hit 200 episodes in its finale this season, and that’s a number a vanishingly small number of scripted primetime shows have hit, especially in the modern era of shorter season orders.”

For more on Maggie Furlong, Mo Ryan and Todd VanDerWerff, be sure to follow them on Twitter!