Too much Sheen: Good for ratings, bad for Sheen?

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At least one TV personality was pointedly refraining from covering Sheen.

“I’m not gonna do it,” Craig Ferguson told his audience on CBS’ “Late Late Show.” He compared the frenzy to an 18th-century practice of people paying a penny to peer into the windows of asylums to watch the mentally ill.

Of course, it was impossible to know what Sheen is suffering from, if anything. Was it the drug abuse he’d acknowledged in the past but said was now over? Was it a mental issue? Or was he merely acting?

“In that case, he deserves an Academy award,” said Todd Boyd, a professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California. “I never saw him act that well on `Two and a Half Men.’”

In any case, “Only he knows how much he is really falling apart,” said psychiatrist Gail Saltz. But, she added, all the media attention couldn’t be good.

“The spotlight is almost never helpful to people in these situations,” Saltz said. “It makes it harder to evaluate mistakes, to think things through, to take a different turn.”

And potentially more problematic than the impact on Sheen, she noted, was the impact on his children. Sheen has five kids, the youngest his nearly 2-year-old twins with estranged wife Brooke Mueller Sheen.

“Will this be good for his children to look back on? No _ none of this is good for the children,” Saltz said. She added, though, that the media “are not therapists. They don’t really have the responsibility to protect Sheen.”

A fellow mental health professional, psychoanalyst Mark Smaller, agreed. He said the best one could hope for from the media was context _ for example, when Sheen ragged on Alcoholics Anonymous.

“Yes, for some AA doesn’t work, but for many it provides a critical function,” Smaller said. “So I’d hope the media could provide information like that.”

In fact, the blinding attention to Sheen could actually turn out to be a positive thing, suggested Deni Carise, the senior clinical officer for the Phoenix House drug treatment center. “The coverage could be a real wake-up call to others who may need attention for similar problems, to seek out help,” she said.

Carise did not pretend to know the nature of Sheen’s problems, though she said his behavior in interviews was “clearly worrisome.” She said she hoped the media coverage would compel his friends and family to help him.

Though some media watchers worried about exploitation, others said it was unreasonable for anyone to expect outlets to ignore a troubled celebrity this famous.

“Sure, the media have been Charlie Sheen’s enablers,” said Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School of Communication. “But he wouldn’t be getting wall-to-wall coverage if that didn’t win big ratings, so it’s the audience _ us _ who are his codependents. Is the attention making his behavior worse? Maybe. But the media didn’t invent people’s urge to rubberneck at car crashes.”

And the ratings HAVE been big. ABC said its “20/20” special last week generated its biggest numbers for any ABC newsmagazine telecast since February 2009, among adults 18-49 and 25-54.

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