To hear executive producer Jim Patterson tell it, the highly publicized incident that might’ve done in Two and a Half Men last year actually might’ve been a blessing wrapped in a bowling shirt.
“The 10th year of a show, you’re looking at 225 episodes,” he says. “Obviously, the more episodes you do, the more of a struggle it is to go, ‘All right, what’s a new idea? What’s something fresh we can do with a character?’”
You can’t get much fresher than getting rid of one role and bringing on another, and that’s what happened in 2011 when Ashton Kutcher’s Walden filled the spot left by departing original cast member Charlie Sheen.
“Last year, we were scared to death because it was like, oh my god, Charlie was gone. What are we going to do?” he recalls, adding that the CBS sitcom eventually found a new rhythm that set it up for Season 10, which bows Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8:30/7:30c. In retrospect, he’s glad for the shake-up. “Now, looking forward, it’s like this is a whole new show again,” he says. “This is great.”
Below, Patterson gives TVLine all the details about the season ahead, including his thoughts on Men‘s new night, Jake’s romance with Miley Missi and the prospect of non-Sheen returnees.
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TVLINE | Tell us a little bit about how Michael Bolton wound up in the premiere.
Walden and Zoey are still a couple, and it’s her birthday. So Walden wants to go all out and plan the perfect romantic date for her. He’s got a bunch of surprises. He takes her to an oceanside Malibu restaurant and he hires Michael Bolton to sing for her at that restaurant as a surprise… Obviously, Michael’s well known for his romantic ballads and things like that. He turned out to be great. He doesn’t just sing in the episode, he kind of becomes a friend of Walden’s in a way. He appears in a couple other scenes throughout the episode. And he’s just really funny.
TVLINE | What does he sing?
He sings “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
TVLINE | I assume, because this is a comedy, things don’t go exactly according to Walden’s plan?
That’s exactly right. What fun would that be, right? [Laughs] It’s a really fun, strong first episode. We’re really excited to be back on the air, moving to a new night on Thursday after The Big Bang Theory. We think it’s a really good opportunity for the show — even though it’s the 10th year, it’s only the second year with Ashton and in a lot of ways, it’s a new show for us still. We’re figuring things out. We think [the move] could bring a new audience to the show, as well.
TVLINE | It certainly doesn’t hurt that Miley Cyrus is showing up this season. She tends to pull a certain demo.
Exactly. We were so excited to get Miley. If it works out, it’s going to be great. She’s on for two episodes right now and if things turn out well and she has fun, we’d love to have her back… We think it’s going to be a great dynamic. She’ll play a romantic interest for Jake [played by Angus T. Jones] and he’s never really had that. This is going to be his first real relationship kind of thing. He’s no longer the half man on the show. He’s… in the Army, gonna have a girlfriend, experience love and heartbreak and all that kind of stuff.
TVLINE | Jake will be home when he meets her. Is he home for good? On leave?
He’s home on leave when he meets her. We didn’t want to cheat the audience and the show and go, “He joined the Army at the end of last year, and now he’s out immediately.” That’s the typical sitcom thing to do. In the first few episodes, he’ll be seen via Skype, he’ll still be part of the show. And then he’ll come home on weekend passes and holidays and things of that nature. We’re keeping it real. We won’t just have him drop out of the Army — although there’s always a chance that he may wash out at some point in the future. But for right now, he’ll be still in the Army and he’ll meet Miley when he comes home on a weekend pass.
TVLINE | Will she sing during her episodes?
No, no plans for it right now. We didn’t want to do like, “Oh! It’s Hannah Montana!” We’re excited – and I think Miley’s excited, too – because it’s a completely different character for her… It’s an adult role for her, and it’s her first TV show since Hannah Montana. And as you said, she’s got a huge following. So we’re really excited at the possibilities of storylines that will happen with her.
TVLINE | Did the show approach her, or did she come to you?
We approached her. Ashton and she are friendly, and actually Angus appeared on her show two years ago, I think it was. I think Jon Cryer actually appeared on her show, as well. And her character on Hannah Montana was obsessed with Ashton… She kind of knew everyone a little bit.
TVLINE | You mentioned that Jake isn’t going to wash out of basic training right away, if at all. Do he and Eldridge have parallel experiences in the military?
They sign up together but it’s not like college, where you get to choose where you’re going to be and who you’re going to be living with and all that kind of stuff. We love the character of Eldridge and what it brings to Jake, the two best friends, and Graham [Patrick Martin, who is now on TNT’s Major Crimes] is a great actor… His availability to us is a little bit less than it was in the past, but we definitely have plans to bring him back. He and Jake are still best friends.
TVLINE | Regarding Alan’s medical issues at the end of last season: Is he completely recovered now? Is this something we have to worry about? Should I light some candles?
[Laughs] Say a little prayer. He’s healthy, but as with Alan, I’m sure he’ll fall into some bad luck and probably hurt himself one way or the other at various times… But we’re not going to play [that] we have to worry about him having a heart attack or anything like that on the show.
TVLINE | You mentioned Zoey is around at the beginning of the season, and we know Ava’s there, too. How much will we see them?
Zoey and Walden are still in a relationship. They’ll have bumps in the road because what fun is a relationship if everything goes right? They’re still going to be dating, but they’re going to experience the ups and downs that come along with any relationship that anyone goes through — whether you’re married or dating or engaged. There’s highs and lows… But she’s definitely still around. And Ava plays a big part, as well, in a couple of episodes. They’re not living with Walden because they didn’t officially move in, but they’re still dating and we’re just going to kind of play it out and see what happens between the two of them.
TVLINE | Are there any new characters coming on?
The first few episodes are definitely going to deal with our core people: Walden and Alan and of course Berta’s going to be around and Holland Taylor as Evelyn, Alan’s mom, is going to be there and Mimi Rogers is coming back [as Walden’s mother, Robin]. We have such a great group, and a large group of characters that we can pull and choose from, that expanding the roles isn’t first priority because we want to take care of our family first. But definitely, if it makes sense, we’re going to for sure bring on some new characters. And we’re going to try to bring back some characters from the past, as well, that are a little bit of a surprise.
TVLINE | Let’s talk upcoming storylines.
We’re really beginning to discover the Ashton/Walden character. Last year, a lot of the show was built around, “All right, we’ve got to move beyond Charlie, we’ve got to reinvent the show.” We’re finding this year that Walden and Alan have a great rapport, as well. It’s different that what Charlie and Alan had, but it’s just as good in a different way. We’re fine-tuning what the Walden character is and experiencing his life more. His life was a little too good last year. His life’s going to get a little more roughed up this year. Down the line, he may end up dating some new people, as well. He and Zoey may break up for a little while, possibly, and experience life outside a relationship.