There are a lot of ways to commit career suicide. But until Charlie Sheen started blabbering last week, I didn’t think sports talk radio was one of them.
Nobody needs to hold any bake sales for the “Two and a Half Men” star, who before the implosion earned well over $1 million an episode for the CBS sitcom. Still, he chose an unlikely medium to unleash his bizarre tirades against the producers of his show — a medium painfully ill-equipped, as it turned out, to deal with a fast-moving story outside its sweet spot in a newsy way.
Sheen began his peculiar media tour on Dan Patrick’s radio show (which is simulcast on FOX Sports), where he talked as much about baseball as his sobriety. The actor followed that up with Alex Jones — a syndicated and online host whose conspiracy theories include an active role in the 9/11 Truth Movement, of which Sheen is also an advocate. Finally, the actor closed the week by calling “The Loose Cannons” on FOX Sports Radio’s Los Angeles flagship KLAC-AM (570), where co-host Pat O’Brien gently suckled the pampered star like a newborn colt.
Throughout Sheen’s stream-of-consciousness rants, none of these hosts ever really pressed him regarding his eccentric behavior, which has included trashing a New York hotel room, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor after being charged with assaulting his wife and being hospitalized with abdominal pains in January after a party the website TMZ described as involving “a briefcase full of cocaine.” Nor was he asked about his use of what the Anti-Defamation League saw as an anti-Semitic inference in trashing his show’s producer, Chuck Lorre.
Instead, O’Brien — the well-traveled former “Access Hollywood” host who, after a 2008 flare-up with his bosses at showbiz TV magazine “The Insider,” took refuge in sports talk — told Sheen “You know I love you,” and then waited until after Sheen left to point out that the guys Sheen insists are persecuting him might actually have the sitcom star’s best interests at heart.
Remember, Sheen has become TV’s highest-paid actor despite a series of off-screen encounters that would cost just about anyone else — short, maybe, of an NFL quarterback — his job. Yet in the friendly confines of radio, he was remarkably allowed to play the victim.
Of course, given the proximity to the NBA’s trade deadline, I suppose we should just be grateful nobody proposed sending Sheen to “The Office” for Steve Carell and two co-stars to be named later.
The real mystery is why Sheen chose these clowns (to borrow his term) as his public forum, other than the fact he apparently enjoys hanging out with guys who have a public profile but earn a fraction of his salary. Granted, when in crisis mode it can be helpful if all the questions are softballs, but if you want to be taken seriously, it’s advisable to seek a venue where most of the ads aren’t for miracle hair-restoration products and divorce and drunk-driving attorneys. (Perhaps mindful of this, the next legs of Sheen’s unofficial “diarrhea of the mouth” tour shifted this week to NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “20/20,” in addition to repeat visits Monday with TMZ and "The Loose Cannons.")
The bottom line is, despite his “They picked a fight with the wrong guy” bravado, Sheen has managed to achieve the nearly impossible — going from coddled, protected star to nearly radioactive in Hollywood. Sure, there will be jobs for him, but if “Men” completely fizzles out because of his tantrums — costing the network and studio millions, not to mention the rest of the cast and crew their jobs — it’s likely goodbye, top-rated network sitcom; hello, “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.”
Not that you’d suspect any of that from listening to Patrick and O’Brien essentially sit in Sheen’s lap. Manly men, to quote the show’s theme song? Hardly — and not very inquisitive ones, either.
“Are you more valuable to CBS than Albert Pujols is to the Cardinals?” was the most probing question Patrick could muster.
Fortunately, there were also a lot of NBA trades to discuss both last week and looking forward — a realm where Sheen’s enablers and sycophants in sports talk, hopefully, possess a bit more credibility.