When CBS pulled Ashton Kutcher on stage for the network’s upfront presentation, announcing him as the new star of the number one rated sitcom Two and a Half Men, the belief seemed to be the actor would be around as long as the show was.

Today comes news that Kutcher’s time may be far shorter than anyone had presumed.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the much-ballyhooed contract between Kutcher and CBS only entitles the network to the star’s services for one season – or entitles the star to the network’s money (upwards of $20 million) for one season, depending on your perspective.

While there are likely many reasons for the deal being structured in the limited way that it is, one solid reason is immediately clear: Two and a Half Men only has one more year under contract with CBS. That may sound as if the network is admitting the end is nigh for the show, but many people close to the program insist (if things work out) the network is interested in keeping their beloved sitcom around for at least two or three more years.

You didn’t think that after all CBS and Warner Bros. have been through over the last year they would simply let Two and a Half Men fade into the annals of history, did you?

Though it is purely speculative at this point to suggest Kutcher or CBS wouldn’t want to continue with such a potentially lucrative venture, the simple fact of the matter is the former star of That ‘70s Show is untested in the role, and (perhaps more importantly) the network is more than a little hand-shy. Kutcher’s deal provides the actor the opportunity to say ‘no thank you’ to another $20 million (or more) payday while also giving the network piece of mind that, if for any reason, they want to move forward with yet another actor – they won’t end up in an additional public brawl with their leading man.

Financially speaking, $20 million for Kutcher is a bargain – especially in comparison to what the network reportedly offered Hugh Grant. Given that Two and a Half Men has proven to be a major cash-cow, CBS knows if the actor proves successful, and maintains the high ratings that flailing star Charlie Sheen was credited with, the network will have some serious negotiations in store for any future seasons. Based on the reported $1.8 million an episode Sheen was bringing in, it looks like the network may have some room to work if they intend to ask Kutcher to extend his stay.

Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher will air Monday nights @9pm this fall on CBS.

Source: TV Guide, The Wall Street Journal