Can Ashton Kutcher get ‘Two and a Half Men’ back into top Emmys race?

Monday’s ninth season premiere of “Two and a Half Men” with new leading man Ashton Kutcher drew a staggering 27.7 million viewers. Those record numbers coupled with good notices for Kutcher could signal an awards comeback for television’s number-one comedy.

Replacing a main character on a long-running show is tricky business. Charlie Sheen, fired earlier in the year from “Men” following a feud with showrunner Chuck Lorre, has himself been a substitute player. When Michael J. Fox left “Spin City” in 2000, Sheen took his place and won a Golden Globe for his efforts. Emmy voters, however, snubbed him after honoring Fox for his final season.

Two and a Half Men” used to be in Emmys’ good graces. From 2006 to 2008, it reaped three Best Comedy Series nods. While Sheen was nominated four times for Comedy Actor, he never won. So far, Conchata Ferrell and Holland Taylor have managed six supporting bids between them. This year, Jon Cryer was the only cast member recognized, as he earned his sixth straight Supporting Comedy Actor nod; he won this award in 2009.

Sheen did not submit himself for consideration this year but appeared at the Emmys on Sunday as a presenter. Before announcing who won Best Comedy Actor, he wished the revamped “Men” the best of luck. Whether those well wishes will translate into renewed awards interest remains to be seen. There is plenty of precedent for replacements reaping at least bids if not wins. 

After the fifth season of “Cheers,” Shelley Long left the hit sitcom in 1987. The 1983 Best Comedy Actress champ was replaced by Kirstie Alley. For her first season, Alley was nominated for an Emmy and she would rack up four more bids, finally winning in 1991. 

David Caruso won a 1994 Golden Globe for the first season of “NYPD Blue” and also earned an Emmy nomination. After negotiations for a pay raise failed, Caruso left the show early in season two. Jimmy Smits took his place and was nominated for Best Drama Actor for five years running; he lost all those races but won the Golden Globe in 1996.

McLean Stevenson got three consecutive Emmy nominations for Supporting Comedy Actor on “M*A*S*H,” before he left the show in 1975. His replacement, Harry Morgan, was nominated for all eight seasons he appeared winning in 1980.

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