What’s the PR tactic to take when the star of a hit TV show bites the hand that feeds? PRs could only watch in horror at the no-holds-barred fighting that occurred when Charlie Sheen, star of CBS’s cash cow Two and a Half Men, slung criticisms and even religious slurs at the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre. Sheen was fired, Ashton Kutcher was hired, ratings soared, and advertisers and the networks slept soundly.
For a while. The next issue was a comparatively smaller bump in the road: Kutcher’s highly publicized split from wife Demi Moore after an affair. Of more concern was the ratings drop after Kutcher’s first top-rated appearance, but both problems ultimately smoothed out with little need for damage control.
Hopefully the show’s PRs were well-rested enough to deal with the latest flap. The “Half” man, ie the 19 year old teenager who is the third character in the show, Angus T. Jones, has taken a page from the Sheen hand-book. Jones, who has starred in the series for nine years, has appeared in a video posted by a Christian church, criticising the show as “filth.” He added, “I’m not OK with what I’m learning, what the Bible says, and being on that television show . . . Please stop watching it.” The response from CBS and Warner Bros.? No comment.
The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) from the network, the studio, and all involved with the show for sticking with “no comment.”
The PR Takeaway: The hand that feeds holds the power. There are a few PR tactics available when when a star goes violently off message. One is to plead insanity or addiction; that worked well with Sheen. The second is to quietly persuade the actor to recant, claiming that the video was a joke, or that the statements were taken out of context. The third is to wait for the news to move on – which it will more quickly when fuel is not added to the fire. The Sheen/Lorre battle escalated because both spoke too plainly to the media. This issue with Jones could die down fast if the only response is “no comment.” It’s a tactic Jones may also wish he’d followed when his contract is up for renewal this year.