x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fathers of the year have nothing to fear from this twit

As Libya descended further into civil war and the State of Wisconsin erupted in budget chaos, what was the big trending topic on Twitter? The continuing personal meltdown of television star Charlie Sheen.

As Libya descended further into civil war and the State of Wisconsin erupted in budget chaos - a paltry concern by comparison - what was the big trending topic on Twitter? The continuing personal meltdown of television star Charlie Sheen.

It's nice, isn't it, to know that Twitter users have such a firm grasp of the important things in life?

To be fair to Sheen, he joined Twitter barely a day ago, and by day's end sported over one million followers. And to be fair to his Twitter followers, it probably isn't his uplifting world view that compelled them to click "follow". My guess is, most were drawn to his tweets the way we're all drawn to slow driving past horrific car accidents - horrible, bloody, unspeakably disgusting - but creepily and compellingly fascinating.

Sheen has always been a loose cannon. The role he plays on the (to some, inexplicably) popular television comedy Two and a Half Men is the watercolour version of his real-life, richly oil-painted self.

On television, he plays a charming rogue ladies' man, a scamp and a cynical cut-up. In life, he plays a hard-drinking drug-addled sot, addicted to hiring prostitutes and adult-film stars, and given - if police reports are to be believed - to trashing expensive hotel rooms and threatening his wife at knife point.

In other words, not your first choice for Father of the Year.

On the other hand, this is Hollywood, and Two and a Half Men is the most popular comedy on television. Sheen is a huge part of its success, and so his per-episode fee of roughly two million dollars was enough to fund the crazy weekends and the hot-and-cold running ladies and his army of lawyers.

Until last week, I have to admit that I found the sideshow of Charlie Sheen's decadent, addled-madness sort of funny.

But I know they were infuriating to those people (some of whom are my close friends) who have big-time stakes in the continuation of the series. That's sort of the line we all walk here in the entertainment business - part of the time we're insiders with some skin in the game; part of the time we're flipping through the tabloids like everybody else.

And, okay, I'll admit it: part of me - and I'm not proud of this; I'm just being honest - admired in an (admittedly creepy and indefensible) way Sheen's sheer reckless nose-thumbing at the world, his total lack of remorse or decorum. Charlie Sheen refused to play the part of the fallen star. He just kept on partying. He became the Keith Richards of television.

But then, last week, he crossed the line. In a rambling and profane radio interview, he went on a long diatribe against the network and the studio - all of which can be forgiven - but then he did something unforgiveable.

He insulted the "show-runner", the executive producer of his show, Chuck Lorre, in a barrage of crazy-talk from which there was no going back. He said, essentially, that the executive producer and creator of his hit series owed it all to him. He claimed credit for the success of the show, its humour and popularity, and described Lorre's work as so many "tin cans" that he, Sheen, had spun into "pure gold."

The next day, the show was shut down for the rest of the production year. That, at long last, was it.

Rule No 1 in the television business: do not disrespect the show-runner. You do not insult him in any way. The man woke up one day, put together a huge hit series, invited you into it, and delivered the success that funnelled the paycheques that enabled the life you're living now. So, when you say his name, don't say it. Whisper it. With awe.

Full disclosure: this may have something to do with the fact that on many past occasions, I've been a show-runner myself. I know how hard it is. And I know Lorre's work, too. And they ain't "tin cans".

"So, let me get this straight," a friend of mine not in the entertainment industry said when we talked about it the next day. "Charlie Sheen wrecks a hotel room, goes on cocaine binges with porn stars, allegedly holds a knife to his wife's throat - and you're OK with that?

"No," I said. "That's show business. We're tolerant of a lot of things. But not insurrection."

I can think of a few despots in far-flung corners who probably wish the rest of the world worked that way, too.

Rob Long is an actor and publisher based in Hollywood