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Arguably one of the most successful forces in television comedy of the late 20th and early 21st century, Chuck Lorre was the creative force behind such astonishingly popular sitcoms as "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003-15), "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ), "Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) and "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98). Nothing in Lorre's early career - which included unremarkable stints as a musician-songwriter and cartoon scriptwriter - indicated that he would develop such an innate understanding of the sitcom format, but after working his way up from writer to producer on "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997), he created a string of award-winning comedies, including "Grace Under Fire" (ABC, 1993-98), "Cybill," and "Dharma and Greg," each of which hinged on headstrong women as their focal points. Despite the success of these shows, Lorre also gained a reputation for clashing with his leads, including Brett Butler and Cybill Shepherd; when he returned to sitcoms in 2003, he was working on male-dominated shows like "Men" and "Big Bang." The latter two proved to be his most popular efforts, netting huge audience shares for their broad and often scatological humor, despite critical disapproval. Brickbats and...
Arguably one of the most successful forces in television comedy of the late 20th and early 21st century, Chuck Lorre was the creative force behind such astonishingly popular sitcoms as "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003-15), "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ), "Dharma and Greg" (ABC, 1997-2002) and "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98). Nothing in Lorre's early career - which included unremarkable stints as a musician-songwriter and cartoon scriptwriter - indicated that he would develop such an innate understanding of the sitcom format, but after working his way up from writer to producer on "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997), he created a string of award-winning comedies, including "Grace Under Fire" (ABC, 1993-98), "Cybill," and "Dharma and Greg," each of which hinged on headstrong women as their focal points. Despite the success of these shows, Lorre also gained a reputation for clashing with his leads, including Brett Butler and Cybill Shepherd; when he returned to sitcoms in 2003, he was working on male-dominated shows like "Men" and "Big Bang." The latter two proved to be his most popular efforts, netting huge audience shares for their broad and often scatological humor, despite critical disapproval. Brickbats and personal issues aside, Lorre's television track record made him one of the most accomplished TV creators working in the medium.
Born Charles Michael Levine in Plainview, NY on Oct. 18, 1952, he was raised in the Long Island, New York suburb of Bethpage, where his father ran a luncheonette. The restaurant was not a success, and Lorre began working there at age 12 to help his father, while his mother, Miriam, with whom Lorre had a contentious relationship, took a job at a department store to assist the family finances. Lorre and his father found solace from the pressures of their day job in front of the television, where he learned to appreciate the work of such comedy legends as Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle. After high school, he attended the State University of New York at Potsdam, but left after two years to pursue a less-than-successful career as a singer and guitarist under the name of Chuck Lorre. During this period, which saw him pay his dues at a variety of lackluster gigs, he managed to score a hit by penning Debbie Harry's 1987 single "French Kissin' in the USA."
Lorre turned to writing in the mid-1980s, and found steady work in TV animation. Marvel Productions and DC kept him busy with scripts for such shows as "Muppet Babies" (CBS, 1984-1991). He also provided music for several series, most notably the theme song for the popular "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (syndicated/CBS, 1987-1996). After hours, he wrote scripts for primetime live action shows, but found few takers until he was able to get a spec for "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992) to one of the show's stars, Betty White. Though Lorre was unable to sell that particular script, it led to freelance work on "Charles in Charge" (CBS/syndicated, 1984-1990) and later, a staff writer position on "My Two Dads" (NBC, 1987-1990). In 1990, Lorre began writing for "Roseanne," where his work impressed producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werrner, who soon elevated him to supervising producer on the series. They also gave him a shot at creating his own show, though the end result - "Frannie's Turn" (CBS, 1992), with Miriam Margolyes as a 50-ish seamstress looking to change her life - was cancelled after only five weeks. Despite its failure, his work on the show, as well as "Roseanne," branded Lorre as a television writer-producer with a flair for women in mid-life shows, which would become the focus of his next two series.
"Grace Under Fire" was a Carsey-Werner production built around the comedy of Brett Butler, who played a recently divorced mother contending with the pressures of work, family life and her newly acquired sobriety. The show was a resounding hit in its first three seasons, landing in the upper tier of the Top 20 and netting Golden Globe nominations for Butler and Best Comedy/Musical. Critics also praised the boldness of its writing, which addressed topics of substance abuse and domestic violence within the context of a traditional sitcom. But "Grace" quickly unraveled due to clashes between Lorre and Butler, who sought to wrest more creative control over the series. As a result, Lorre left the show after its first season, though retained a connection as its "comedy consultant." In 1995, Lorre created "Cybill," a vehicle for actress Cybill Shepherd about an actress who, like Roseanne Barr and Brett Butler's characters, dealt with middle age career decline through her outspoken nature and tenacity. Though Shepherd was the star of the series and earned a Golden Globe for her performance, much of the show's critical acclaim and audience devotion was centered on co-star Christine Baranski, who played Shepherd's alcoholic best friend, and netted both an Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award for her work. The backstage relationship between Lorre and Shepherd became fractious, and after 17 episodes, he was removed from the show as executive producer. The back-to-back firings helped to earn Lorre a reputation as a talented television producer with an unfortunate combative streak.
Lorre returned to television in 1997 with "Dharma and Greg," a lightweight sitcom about a straight-laced lawyer (Thomas Gibson) and his freewheeling, hippie wife (Jenna Elfman). The show was played entirely for laughs and remained free of the weightier subject matter found in his previous shows - in fact, its audience rejected attempts to bring dramatic material to the table - and earned six Emmy nominations during its five-year run. More significantly, "Dharma" marked the beginning of Lorre's "vanity cards," which flashed a brief message, readable only to those who paused their recording devices, detailing his thoughts on a wide variety of subjects. Many of these were humorous items or philosophical queries, but on occasion, Lorre let his feelings be known about the conflicts he faced from network executives, critics and the occasional co-star. The vanity cards were also sometimes censored by networks for adult content.
After "Dharma" left the air in 2002, Lorre launched "Two and a Half Men," a broad, often raunchy comedy about a hedonistic jingle writer (Charlie Sheen) who begrudgingly allowed his uptight brother (Jon Cryer) and nephew (Angus T. Jones) to live with him. The clash between brothers, and the show's frequently outrageous riffs on Sheen's sexual and chemical appetites formed the basis for the show's humor, which in turn resonated strongly with audiences, who made it the top-rated comedy in primetime and a consistent Top 20 show for eight seasons. Over 30 Emmy nominations came its way during this time period, with four technical awards and a Best Supporting Actor trophy going to Cryer. Despite its popularity, the show was frequently called out for its relentless barrage of off-color humor and perceived misogynistic attitude. While reaping the rewards of "Men," Lorre launched another sitcom juggernaut, "The Big Bang Theory." An amusing twist on the fish-out-of-water plotline, with a quartet of brilliant but socially awkward researchers learning to live outside of the laboratory thanks to their attractive neighbor (Kaley Cuoco). Anchored by a Golden Globe-winning, scene-stealing performance by Jim Parsons as quirky theoretician Sheldon, it soon echoed the stellar ratings of "Men," and in some cases, surpassed them. With two shows in the Top 20 running at the same time, Lorre had edged into territory previously occupied by such pioneering forces in TV comedy as Norman Lear.
Amazingly, Lorre enjoyed a third hit series with "Mike and Molly" (CBS, 2010-16), a romantic comedy about two plus-sized strangers (Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy) who fall in love after meeting at an Overeaters Anonymous group. Reviews were initially mixed, with many critics taking the show to task for an over-reliance on jokes based on weight, but it quickly garnered a following in its time slot, as well as a People's Choice Award nomination for Favorite New Comedy. In the midst of his abundant good fortune, Lorre hit a snag with his flagship series, "Two and a Half Men," when star Charlie Sheen entered a rehabilitation facility in early 2010. Production was forced to shut down during his recovery, but Sheen further complicated matters when he abruptly quit the show over salary issues. However, in May of 2010, he was back at work on the "Men" set. Additional tumult in his personal life forced Sheen to return to rehab in January of 2011, which again put the show on hiatus. In February of that year, Lorre was the subject of unbridled personal attacks by Sheen on a syndicated radio program, including what many perceived as thinly veiled anti-Semitic statements. The explosion of negative press surrounding the outburst brought production on the show to a complete halt, and threw the future of the series into doubt. In the weeks that followed the dustup, it was revealed that Lorre had made several comments about Sheen's high wire lifestyle in his vanity cards, including one that stated that he would be upset if Sheen outlived him.
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