Have TV viewers seen last of Charlie Sheen?

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NEW YORK (AP) - As Charlie Sheen continued to rant on, his bosses at “Two and a Half Men” seemed prepared Friday to move on. The network’s decision to stop production of television’s most popular sitcom this season _ and maybe for good _ has multimillion-dollar implications for CBS and producer Warner Bros. Television, but it’s hardly fatal.

The remaining four episodes were scrapped Thursday after Sheen called the show’s executive producer Chuck Lorre a “contaminated little maggot.” Sheen’s remarks were made on a radio program and in a letter posted on the TMZ website. He kept it up Friday, calling Lorre a clown and loser in text messages to ABC’s “Good Morning America” and vowing to show up for work next week.

However, there won’t be any work for him to do, as Sheen’s erratic personal life may finally have killed a job that reportedly pays him $1.8 million an episode. He’s been hospitalized three times in three months, with the production put on hold in January after his most recent hospital stay following a night of frenzied partying. Taping was to resume next week, a plan that blew up Thursday.

“There comes a time when you say, `Enough,’” Jeffrey Stepakoff, a veteran television writer and author of “Billion Dollar Kiss: The Kiss That Saved Dawson’s Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing,” said Friday.

The last original episode of “Two and a Half Men” aired Feb. 14.

Sheen plays a hard-partying playboy in the series, which has been a durable performer for CBS for eight seasons. It has averaged 14.6 million viewers this season, down 4 percent from last year, the Nielsen Co. said. The show has fluctuated little in audience, with the 16.5 million viewer average in 2004-05 its highest and 13.8 million in 2007-08 the lowest, Nielsen said.

“It’s very hard to get rid of a show that is successful and popular and has served as a launching pad for other comedies,” said Brad Adgate, a television analyst for Horizon Media. “This is still a hit-driven business and it’s hard to get a hit like that.”

Sheen, in an interview Friday with Pat O’Brien on Fox radio’s “Loose Cannons” show, said he would fight any effort to not pay him for the balance of his contract, which runs through next season.

He questioned whether he would go back for a ninth season or not, calling it a “toxic environment.”

“If they want to roll back to season nine, I gave them my word I would do that but not with the turds that are currently in place. It’s impossible … it would go bad quickly,” he said.

Canceling the show outright would eliminate the anchor series on CBS’ popular Monday night lineup, with its 9 p.m. replacement likely getting lower ratings. However, since “Two and a Half Men” is a long-running hit with a highly paid cast and staff, CBS will almost certainly replace it with a show that’s cheaper to put on, perhaps making up for the lost ad revenue, analysts say.

It’s been widely thought that next season would be its last. It would have brought “Two and a Half Men” up to around 200 episodes in its life span, considered optimal for a long life in syndication. There are 177 episodes now.

Unlike NBC, which is looking to continue “The Office” even though star Steve Carell is leaving after this season, it seems unlikely that CBS or Warners would want to continue the show without Sheen or choose another actor to replace him.

CBS is in a strong position as the top-rated broadcast network. Last week, for example, Fox’s two editions of “American Idol” were the most-watched prime-time shows on television, and the next 16 on the Nielsen Co.’s popularity list were all on CBS.

“CBS, of anybody, can absorb an issue like this, because they have bench strength,” said Don Seamen, vice president and communications analysis for MPG North America. “They have other shows that can fill the slot. If it was NBC, they would be more willing to look the other way.”

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