A more traditional crossover between the shows almost seems to write itself. Charlie ( Charlie Sheen) and Alan (Jon Cryer) go to Las Vegas where one of them is distressed to wake up in bed with a dead prostitute. When Jake (Angus T. Jones) gets an ear infection, the men return to Malibu without reporting the crime, but Grissom uses the evidence to track them down, after stopping at the In-n-Out in Barstow along the way. Easy.
But the writing teams behind both shows didn't want to go down that path, which is good, since the stars of both hits expressed some reservations when they heard the initial rumors.
On his lead's reaction, Naren Shankar summarizes, "Billy Petersen: 'Are you crazy?'"
Adds Carol Mendelsohn, "And 'I'm not crossing over.'"
Lee Aronsohn chips in, "And Charlie Sheen: 'Are you serious?'"
And Chuck Lorre follows with, "Eyebrows were raised, absolutely. And when we told them that the writing was crossing over, not the acting, then the eyebrows raised a little higher."
Mendelsohn: "Naren and I told Billy that he would get what he has never gotten before, a script written by two Emmy-winning writers."
Lorre: "Nominated. We didn't win, Carol. You lied to him. We never won."
Mendelsohn: "We know. But then I decided not to tell him that."
Indeed, instead of transplanting the characters from the two long-running hits, a stunt done with some frequency when sweeps time rolls around, CSI and Two and a Half Men swapped writers, with CSI veterans Mendelsohn and Shankar trying their hands at sitcom writing and Lorre and Aronsohn experimenting with forensics. This involved believe this to be the first time such a crossover has occurred.
"And very well may be the last one," Lorre says.
On Monday's Two and a Half Men, the boys will become involved with a murder investigation, complete with flashbacks and interrogation room scenes. Then on Thursday, the CSI gang will investigate the death of a sitcom diva (Katey Sagal), whose resemblance to sitcom divas Lorre has known and loved -- a group that includes Roseanne, Brett Butler and Cybill Shepherd -- may or may not be coincidental.
In explaining the crossover process to reporters, the writers showed off the collaboration that must have gone into both shows, frequently overlapping in conversation.
Here's how it went:
"They did an outline of our show. We did an outline of their show. And then they did a first draft of their show and we did a first draft of our show and then we all got together and punched, punched up and they gave us the forensics and the plotting of the crimes and we kind of put in our little ha-has," Aronsohn says.
Lorre: "We put in our ha-has?"
Aronsohn: "We put in our ha-has."
Lorre: "You're diminishing us."
Aronsohn: "We put in our brilliant comedy."
Lorre: "There you go."
Skeptical readers unsure how this gambit might play out certainly aren't alone.
"It was a really half-assed idea when I first pitched it to Carol and the fact that it's taken hold and we're having this conversation now defies every sense of reality that I have," Lorre says. "It's mind-boggling that we actually did this."
For now, both teams are satisfied with the fruits of their collaborations, even if there were plenty of obstacles they had to face along the way.
"That was was the big leap, was would the audience go with us with a dead body on the show and forensic examination of a dead body on our show," Lorre says. "There was a moment there where it could have gone either way, but I think the results are spectacular. It's a really funny episode."
Mendelsohn adds, "I think also we all had to deal with issues of control. We're all used to being in control and in charge of our own shows and even though this was a freelance-type situation -- we freelanced on Two and a Half Men, Chuck and Lee freelanced on CSI -- there was an expectation and also a desire on all of our parts to really have a true collaboration and you have to give a little. It's sort of a life lesson, I think."
A few other highlights from the CSI/Two and a Half Men crossover call with the press:
Lorre, on whether or not they'd do this again: "It's always more fun to have written than to write. After the strike ended, I'm sure Carol and Naren would agree with me here, we've been in a mad dash to produce our shows and get them on the air and restore our relationship with our audience. And pulling off this switch was nothing short of a miracle. It'd be nice to do when both houses weren't on fire."
Aronsohn, on learning to respect the other guys: "At some point the CSI writers would be talking among themselves about how the clues laid out in the Two and a Half Men story and Chuck and I would just look at each other and we'd occupy ourselves counting the ceiling tiles for a while because we couldn't even follow the conversation. We learned a whole lot about plotting and reverse engineering stuff that I can't believe they do it every week."
Mendelsohn, on whether comedy is easier or harder than drama: "You know what? I think writing, in general, is hard. I think writing a CSI script is really hard. This was really hard, writing a Two and a Half Men, but it was so much fun because of Chuck and Lee. So, I don't think any writer has ever written anything that they thought was easy."