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Can Kutcher man up and keep ‘Men’ a hit series?

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NEW YORK » There’s a new man on the scene at “Two and a Half Men.” But is Ashton Kutcher man enough?

With Friday’s announcement that Kutcher will be replacing Charlie Sheen, viewers could begin to wonder how he will be plugged into the hit sitcom’s tight little world. Can his particular appeal fill the void of the caustically droll Sheen? And just who the heck will his character be?

Neither CBS nor Chuck Lorre, the series’ creator, were giving any hints as they confirmed the deal to bring Kutcher into a show where Sheen’s character was the comic center, portraying an advertising jingle writer with a playboy lifestyle and an overwrought brother.

Kutcher, who first found sitcom stardom more than a decade ago on “That ‘70s Show,” specializes in puppy dog wholesomeness and laid-back, goofy sexiness. He’s perhaps the anti-Sheen.

“We are so lucky to have someone as talented, joyful and just plain remarkable as Ashton joining our family,” said Lorre, also the show’s executive producer. “Added to that is the deep sigh of relief knowing that our family stays together. If I was any happier, it’d be illegal.”

“I can’t replace Charlie Sheen,” said Kutcher, adding that he plans to work hard “to entertain the hell out of people.”

Kutcher’s quote was the news release’s sole mention of Sheen, who, two months ago, was fired by Warner Bros. Television when it cut short production of the show’s eighth season following Sheen’s public implosion through hard partying and angry criticism of Lorre.

The character that Sheen had played until then drew comic inspiration from his own life of sex sprees, serial marriages and substance abuse.

That character, named Charlie Harper, had started with a bang.

“I make a lot of money for doing very little work,” he boasted on the show’s premiere in 2003. “I sleep with beautiful women who don’t ask about my feelings. I drive a Jag. I live at the beach.”

Charlie was speaking to his dweebish, high-strung chiropractor brother, Alan (Jon Cryer), whose wife had just thrown him out of the house. Alan and his son, Jake (Angus T. Jones), had crashed with Charlie. There they stayed.

The gist of “Men” lay in the disparity between Charlie’s life of plenty and Alan’s frustrated existence.

“My life is pathetic,” Alan moaned on an episode this season. “On the other hand, Charlie’s life is great.”

But now Charlie is gone, and, with him, the show’s dependably winning formula.

The deal to replace him with Kutcher apparently came together quickly, following reports this week that negotiations with film actor Hugh Grant to join the show had fallen through. A deadline on deciding whether the show would continue was looming, with CBS set to unveil its fall schedule to advertisers in New York next Wednesday.

Besides “That ‘70s Show,” Kutcher’s credits include film roles like the romantic comedy “No Strings Attached” and his producing and hosting roles for the prank show “Punk’d.”

Kutcher is not as well-known as Sheen but, at age 33, is a dozen years younger and has a huge flock of fans who check in on his every utterance on Twitter.

It was on Twitter, of course, where on Thursday Kutcher gave his followers a sly clue for what was coming.

“What’s the square root of 6.25?” the actor asked in a tweet.

The answer is 2 1/2.

Once the news was out Friday, Sheen was tossing around numbers, too.

“Enjoy the show, America,” he said in a statement. “Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB.”

Sheen used TV lingo to predict failure for the revamped “Men.” He referred to a 2.0 Nielsen Co. rating among the 18- to 49-year-old demographic that advertisers often seek. This season, “Two and a Half Men” averaged a 4.1 rating in that group.

Actually, Kutcher might be expected to have a younger following than Sheen and one that could be curious about his new role. The difficulty might be the older makeup of CBS’ audience in general, more Sheen’s crowd than Kutcher’s.

Sheen, in his statement, advised Kutcher to “Enjoy planet Chuck. … There is no air, laughter, loyalty or love there.” That’s a reference to his feud with former boss Lorre, which has hardly abated since his sacking.

And it had to serve as a reminder to Lorre that, amid many unanswered questions, one thing is already clear: with Kutcher, the “Two and a Half Men” set will be a much more peaceful place.

Will it be as funny?

David Bauder contributed to this report.

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