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CBS Unveils Ashton Kutcher's New Character: Walden Schmidt, Man of Mystery

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America, meet Walden Schmidt. At the introductory CBS session of the TCA TV critics’ press tour, CBS programming head Nina Tassler had some news about Ashton Kutcher’s new character, who will take over for Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men this fall. Tassler described Schmidt, who will be introduced in a two-part season opener, as “an Internet billionaire with a broken heart.”

I said that Tassler had some news about Two and a Half Men, “some” being the operative word. Beyond that tidbit, she was tight-lipped about the new season and, especially, the saga of Sheen’s public self-immolation and departure from the show amid fights with his producer, drug use and charges of domestic violence. (What people in the TV business now refer to as “The Troubles.”)

For instance is it true that Men producer Chuck Lorre plans to kill off Sheen’s character (a la the send-off South Park gave to Isaac Hayes’ Chef)? “I’m not going to confirm or deny that,” Tassler said. Did she and CBS learn anything from their travails in handling Sheen? “Oh, where do I begin? … That there is great value in hiring an actor like Ashton Kutcher.” And would CBS insititute any new policy, as one critic put it, for dealing with actors with a history of “erratic” behavior? “That would probably be every actor in the business,” Tassler quipped, before answering more seriously that it’s tough to place rigid guidelines on what is inherently a creative process.

Critics and reporters won’t get a chance, for the moment, to ask Lorre or Kutcher at greater length, because–surprisingly for a returning show with such buzz–Men will not be presenting a TCA panel. Tassler said that it was because the show is already in production, a transparently silly explanation since that’s true of many if not most of the shows whose creative teams are presenting this week.

TCA does generally tend to focus more on newly debuting shows, but most of CBS’s big news deals with returning programs—not just Men but CSI, which will introduce Ted Danson this season. (CSI, for some reason, is going to manage to make an appearance at TCA.) Tassler addressed the risks of making changes in the leads of two of CBS’s biggest shows, saying that this kind of move works best when you add an actor with a strong reputation into an established show that’s running well. Of course, that didn’t work so well for Laurence Fishburne and CSI, but Tassler attributed that to fans’ adjustment to the departure of William Petersen and his character Gil Grissom.

As for further information on Kutcher’s broken-hearted billionaire, you’ll have to wait. Tassler said that CBS is keeping mum on further details because “the mystery is part of the marketing.” Two and a Half Men fans—or non-fans who are suddenly interested in watching for the first time—consider yourself marketed.

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