Hundreds of hard-working cameramen, makeup artists, set designers and actors, just to name a few, are out of a job now that “Two and a Half Men” has gone dark for the rest of the season.
Do they have any legal recourse against either Charlie Sheen, whose actions allegedly caused the show’s cancellation, or CBS, which shut down production late last week?
Legal experts say those workers might be able to reclaim some of those lost wages by going after either network or Sheen’s own very deep pockets.
“It is a major financial loss. I think the production crew could try to sue Sheen by bringing a class action suit against him for lost wages, or they can try to sue CBS for pulling the plug,” Fox News anchor and legal analyst Kimberly Guilfoyle told FOX411.
Let's look at the pile of cash up for grabs. CBS brings in approximately $155 million in advertising from the program yearly. Sheen is the highest paid actor in prime time comedy, making nearly $2 million for each episode of the show.
Despite the fact that he is the catalyst for all of this drama, Sheen may be protected from a legal standpoint. His actions may have ultimately led to the cancellation, but he did not make the call to cancel the show. In fact, following the network’s announcement that the show would be going dark, Sheen told ABC’s Good Morning America via text message that he would be showing up for work anyway.
“Charlie didn’t cancel the show. The network decided to cancel production for this season. If they wanted to, the crew could say the network didn’t have a basis to do it and go after them for their lost wages,” explains attorney Joey Jackson. The crew that worked on "Two and a Half Men" is not actually employed by CBS. Many of them are freelance workers employed by the show’s production company Warner Brothers Television.
Networks and production companies always have the right to cancel a program if a cast member violates contract. Actors and actresses often have a moral turpitude clause in their contracts which basically states that if the star behaves in a manner detrimental to the network or program the network has a right to protect themselves by getting rid of the problem star or canceling the show.
But lawyers have a way of finding loopholes when lots of cash is at stake.
The loophole that workers from the show could seek to exploit is why CBS shut down production now, after years of tolerating plenty of Sheen’s bad behavior, including reported drug binges and charges of domestic violence against his wife, only after Sheen verbally attacked the show and its producer, Chuck Lorre.
“Why is it that when Sheen went on his drug-induced binges, CBS didn’t cancel the show, but when he said negative things about the network, they did,” Jackson wonders. “Sheen had a first amendment right to say what he felt and I don’t think that serves as a basis to violate his morals cause, especially given precedent.”
With the network in the cross hairs, in a bit of legal ring-around-the-rosy, Guilfoyle believes that CBS may in turn have some course of action against Sheen, depending of course, on the terms of his contract.
“CBS could have a cause of action against Sheen for damages if he failed to live up to the terms and conditions of his contract,” Guilfoyle says.
At the end of the day, there are a number of critical issues at stake and they hinge on what was in Sheen’s contract. What was his moral turpitude clause? Did he have an additional disparagement clause barring the actor from making damaging remarks about the show or its producers?
“CBS had to have some reasonable basis for believing they could cancel the rest of this season, since it would have been ill-advised for them to do it without a solid legal basis,” A. Raymond Hamrick, a Los Angeles attorney with Hamrick & Evans, LLP told FOX411. “Sheen could also have some good arguments to force some kind of settlement with the producers of CBS. At this point it is hard to tell who has the better side of the argument.”