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Charlie Sheen is being replaced on the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men" - again.
This time by a 63-year-old woman.
The increasingly tedious nose-thumbing that's been going on between Warner Bros. and Sheen, its former "Two and a Half Men" star, got interesting again when CBS announced that an upcoming episode of "Men" will feature the return of Sheen's character, Charlie Harper. Except Harper will be played by Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates.
It's nothing new to bring back departed series stars as characters they made famous, for a sort of homecoming. Remember when Shelley Long visited "Cheers" in '93 for that series's finale? Or when George Clooney returned to "ER" for Julianna Margulies's final episode as a show regular? Or when Chad Michael Murray came back to "One Tree Hill" a couple of weeks ago?
Usually, the way this works is this: Star returns to bask in the standing O of the studio audience. - Star's return reaps huge ratings for the show in a "sweep" ratings derby. - Ratings demonstrate to star's next employer that he/she still has what it takes. - Everybody goes home happy.
But of course, Sheen has a very challenged relationship with the show and with Warner Bros., which sacked him off his starring vehicle last spring. That despite Sheen's delivering his famous "From the bottom of my heart I wish you nothing but the best for this upcoming season" speech to the producers and cast of "Men" at the Emmy Awards last fall.
Just this past February, Warner Bros. sent Sheen and the producers of his new sitcom, "Anger Management," a letter demanding that they stop using one of Warner Bros.'s Sheen promo photos to promote the show at a trade confab.
Sheen responded that he was tired of pretending "Men" and the star who replaced him, Ashton Kutcher, didn't stink.
Sheen eventually apologized to Kutcher, but not to Warner Bros. or show creator/exec producer Chuck Lorre.
Now Lorre and Warner Bros. have thumbed their noses, again.
The episode in question will air April 30 - that's the first Monday of the May sweep ratings race - and just two months before Sheen's "Anger Management" is set to premiere on the FX network.
Sheen's dead Charlie Harper character will return as a ghost to visit his brother, Alan, played by Jon Cryer, who is hospitalized after a heart attack.
Only instead of helping Sheen warm up the marketing machine for his new comedy, "Men" has cast Bates in the ghostly role, which will probably help with ratings on her NBC series, "Harry's Law."
The network crossover guest visit by the NBC star is not so problematic as you might expect: "Harry's Law" also is produced by Warner Bros.
'Voice' vs 'Dancing'
NBC's "The Voice" and ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" went head to head for the first time Monday night. Both emerged bloodied, but neither got knocked out.
ABC's dance derby and NBC's singing competition came in on the low side, ratings-wise. But both grew their audiences from 8 to 10 p.m., and both wound up with numbers that will probably land them in the ratings top-10 lists this week.
The unveiling of "Dancing's" 14th edition attracted 18.8 million viewers, the biggest crowd to watch any TV show on any network last week. It's also the largest audience for any show since this year's Academy Awards.
"The Voice" averaged 12 million. That's a season low and marks the first time this season that it has been beaten by any program in its time slot.
"Dancing," meanwhile, took about a 4 million-viewer hit, compared with its spring-season debut last year.
That 18.8 million crowd is, however, not a series low for "Dancing" - three previous editions of the long-running franchise opened to smaller crowds: seasons 2, 3 and 9.
Monday's debut was the lowest-rated ever for "Dancing" among the 18- to 49-year-olds who are the currency of the television business. Compared with its most recent debut last fall, "Dancing" on Monday fumbled about 600,000 viewers in the age group.
"The Voice" lost more viewers in that age group - about 760,000 - week to week, scoring its smallest audience this season.
Rosie on 'Rosie's' end
In her program's first telecast since OWN announced that her show was being canceled, Rosie O'Donnell addressed the development.
The headline: Don't Blame Oprah.
"Some people were saying, 'Oh, it's not fair.' It is fair," Rosie insisted. "Oprah gave me an amazing shot at doing this."
The show was wrong from the get-go, said the comic turned actress, who headlined a hit syndicated daytime talk show that ran for six seasons, from '96 to '02.
"We were kind of trying to do a little bit of what we had done 15 years ago, and you can't do it," Rosie said. "Lewis Carroll says I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. . . . I figured it out over Christmas break."
But by then, when the decision was made to morph the show into an audience-free, one-on-one interview program, too much momentum had been lost, she said.
"Here's the bottom line," Rosie said. "It's a business, right? It didn't make financial sense to continue the show at the cost, because of the amount of viewers."