Nellie Andreeva

UPDATED: Walden Schmidt is dropping the beard and getting a haircut. That was one of the headlines from TCA’s Two And A Half Men session this morning, which featured star Ashton Kutcher with a new clean-cut look. The onscreen transformation will happen on the show’s upcoming episode Monday.

During the panel, co-creator Chuck Lorre talked about how close he came to ending Two And A Half Men after the controversial exit of original star Charlie Sheen. “We absolutely considered it,” he said. “We never imagined we would be in a position to consider it any other way. It looked as slightly impossible and ridiculous thing to do.” Eventually, he and co-creator Lee Aronsohn opened up to the possibility of continuing the show with another star. “We thought if we fail, no one will be psychically harmed. It seemed like such a heartbreaking way to end (the show).”

Kutcher, whose deal is up at the end of the season, was asked about the prospect of him continuing on the show next fall. “The deal we structured was kinda a test deal,” he said. “The show is outperforming the numbers from before I was here, and I think people are responding to it. For me having a show people like and want more of will dictate my decision. Right now I’m looking at (summer) as a hiatus, I have a lot of fun and would love to come back.”

Also at the panel, Aronsohn addressed speculation about the behind-the-scenes fight between Lorre and Sheen, which was fueled by comments during the actor’s rampage last spring. “I never saw it, that was never the case,” Aronsohn said. “Chuck has always been extremely respectful of Charlie, and Charlie has been respectful of Chuck. What has been built up as a feud never existed.”

Lorre kept with the congenial tone when asked about Sheen. “I wish him well, I’m glad he’s sober and happy now,” he said.

Lorre opened the panel on a humble note. “I’m very grateful to be here, you’re going to hear that a lot. There is a great reason to be grateful to be here. It was an extraordinary experience rebirthing the show. We have an audience that has stayed with us and grown and there are ratings stats that are fairly remarkable. For Lee and I this has been an extraordinary experience, it’s been exciting, challenging, terrifying, and at the end of the day we’ve had a lot of fun. We are very grateful this guy [points to Kutcher] came and kept the lights on.” Lorre was a little more blunt and unapologetic after the session. Asked about the lowbrow humor on the show, he said, “If people don’t like the show, I’m sorry.”

As for Schmidt’s appearance transformation, when Lorre first met him, Kutcher was “kind of shaggy and hirsute,” and, since there were no leading men like that on TV, Lorre and Aronsohn decided to keep the look. But the plan was always for Schmidt to shave and cut his hair.

Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

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