EXCLUSIVE… UPDATE WITH MORE DETAILS, 3:45 PM: We hear that the idea of Hugh Grant as a replacement for Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men was first pitched to CBS boss Les Moonves and CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler about a month ago. After a couple of weeks sorting out the Sheen lawsuit fallout, the two execs blessed the plan and Grant was approached by the producers at Warner Bros. We hear Hugh flew in and had 2 creative meetings. Things were progressing and he had all but a completed deal when he backed out unexpectedly. ‘It was not the money. He didn’t want to do TV because those 24 episodes are a grind and a lot of work. At the end he couldn’t get his head around doing a series.” Another insider tells us that, if Grant committed, “the show could have gotten another 3 to 4 more seasons”.

PREVIOUS FROM NIKKI FINKE: I’ve learned that one-time bad boy Hugh Grant was deep into final negotiations to replace Charlie Sheen as the lead on Two And A Half Men until he pulled out last night at the last minute due to creative differences. Insiders tell me he’d been offered more than $1 million an episode [UPDATE: but Warner Bros sources are now saying it was not that much], which is the sort of $25M-a-year payday Grant doesn’t get from movies anymore. All along insiders at Warner Bros and CBS had been saying that they were going after “an A-lister” as the new star of the top-rated sitcom after Sheen was fired, and Hugh sure fits the bill. (Let me tell you, I would have watched that show!) CBS has been working hard to announce the return of the show and its new star at next week’s upfronts. Maybe Grant will reconsider. Let’s hope. But it’s a decision that will affect not just CBS’ Nielsen ratings and advertising revenue but also billions of dollars of future syndication contracts for Warner Bros Television.

Insiders have been explaining to me that, at first, executive producer and co-creator Chuck Lorre wasn’t sure if he wanted to proceed with the show after Sheen’s implosion. With three successful sitcoms on CBS — Two And A Half Men, Mike & Molly, and The Big Bang Theory — Lorre was enjoying only showrunning two of them. But the problem, and it’s a very nice problem to have, is that there is so much moolah at stake because Two And A Half Men is a multibillion-dollar asset in syndication on terrestrial broadcast stations like the Fox station group, on cable with FX, as well as via multi foreign and DVD deals. The terrestrial contracts called for the stations to have to carry the show as long as Sheen was “of the essence” of each episode. Once Sheen left, the stations could get out of the contract. The hope was and still is that his replacement will be so compelling that the stations will want to continue the contract. Not so with the cable and foreign deals, where Charlie was not “of the essence”, meaning it didn’t matter to the contracts whether Sheen was in the show or not as long as the sitcom’s concept remained similar. This is why everybody have been working so hard to find a replacement, with names like Woody Harrelson, Rob Lowe, John Stamos and Jeremy Piven circulating in the blogosphere. But until now, with Deadline’s news about Hugh Grant, there’s been nothing concrete about actual negotiations going on with any specific actor to replace Sheen.

Sources close to Lorre have told me that he only wants to continue the show “if he can find the right actor and get excited about that.” What matters most to Lorre, I’m told, is that Sheen’s replacement be “somebody Chuck can work with” after butting heads with Charlie for years in a situation that escalated into a very public and nasty feud this spring. The feeling was to contract with “an exciting actor who’d never done TV before,” and Moonves especially was encouraging Lorre et al to “swing high”. As one insider told me, “Everybody wants show back and to support Chuck creatively and to do something the advertising community will feel good about. The only issue was whether everyone could get the show up and running and right fast enough to make this fall’s schedule.”