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Creatives Speaking: Two and a Half Men’s Chuck Lorre on changing the face of US comedy

Chuck Lorre is a veteran comedy writer having worked on seminal US sitcoms Roseanne and Dharma & Greg. He also penned Charlie Sheen comedy Two and a Half Men, which is still going strong on CBS. At a time when sitcoms are thin on the ground on US network TV, Lorre has the distinction of having two on air having also written new series The Big Bang Theory, also on CBS. Multitalented Lorre also penned Blondie hit French Kissing in the USA and the theme tune to the Teenage Mutant Heroes Turtles TV show.

At a time when the comedy genre is challenged you have two series on network TV – what’s the secret?

I wish there was a formula gut I haven’t found it. The best work comes from focusing on the characters and the relationships and elements that are universal. In Two and a Half Men there are a series of episodes where Charlie’s character becomes disillusioned with one night stands and that drives him into situations that are funny. With 2.5 I was blessed from the outset with an amazing cast and if I write good material they do extremely well with it.

How do you keep Two and a Half Men fresh?

I’m careful not to write material that is so referential it has a timestamp on it – dialogue that will be dusty in one year, we’re conscious of wanting it to have a shelf life.

Two and a Half Men is popular but has had a rough ride critically, does that bother you?

God doesn’t give with both hands. You have to stay grateful with what you’ve got and we have a loyal audience.

Have any of your shows changed the comedy genre?

I think Roseanne broke a lot of ground with the way it was talking about a family, it didn’t offer a saccharine version. Roseanne was a great experience… but it almost killed me.

What are the constraints of working on network TV?

Janet Jackson hurt everybody. I almost feel TV has gone backwards and there was more freedom thirty years ago in terms of what you can do on broadcast TV.

Do you have creative control?

Les Moonves [CBS chief] uses a policy of it aint broke don’t fix it. People don’t really mess with us. But I’m content with some give and take with what the station might find objectionable, but no-one really knows what that is. I think the people who might be offended have probably been offended and left, we have shot over 100 episodes of Two and a Half Men.

Our real protection against people jumping in our sandbox is we do it in front of a live audience. If they don’t laugh there’s no argument you can make that you’re succeeding. If you can jump that hurdle there’s not a network exec that can say you’re not doing your job. We have to earn the audience’s trust every week. In the networks’ defence, they are investing a great amount of money in your creative judgement.

What are you hoping from new series The Big Bang Theory?

I want to find an audience that’s not watching sitcoms on broadcast TV. It speaks to an audience that’s not watching TV.