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Television writer, composer and producer Lee Aronsohn wrote for some of the most successful and influential prime time comedies of the modern era, including "The Love Boat," "Who's the Boss?" and "The Big Bang Theory." He also worked with shows on the feminist vanguard, including "Murphy Brown," "Grace Under Fire," and "Cybill," a record that was temporarily wiped clean by a maelstrom over misogynistic comments he made during a 2012 panel discussion. This real-life plotline -- so perfectly suited to his male-dominated comedy hit, "Two and a Half Men" -- came dangerously close to recasting Aronsohn in the sort of male stereotype that made this show so successful.
Aronsohn grew up in New York. After attending the University of Colorado, he relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1975 to be with a woman who was a student at the University of Nebraska. While in Nebraska, he opened the Trade-A-Tape Comic Center, a long-lived comic book and used record store. Aronsohn eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he was trying his hand at stand-up when he met producer and writer Ben Joelson through a family connection: Joelson's brother was Aronsohn's father's insurance agent in New York. Joelson talked him into pitching story ideas for "The Love Boat" (ABC 1977-1986). After a year of attempts, he landed his first episode.
Aronsohn wrote 19 episodes for the show between 1978 and 1980, but left the series and took up residency at L.A.'s notorious Tropicana Hotel, a seedy haven for actors, artists, writers and musicians. The budding writer fell into the scene there and lived off his "Love Boat " residuals for some time. He didn't book another writing job until he worked on the Scott Baio vehicle "Charles in Charge" (CBS / syndication 1984-1990). He penned 13 episodes of the show from 1987 to 1989.
During that period, Aronsohn wrote 4 episodes of the popular Tony Danza sitcom "Who's the Boss?" (ABC 1984-1992) and was one of the show's producers for another 48 episodes. He also worked on the short-lived Wes Craven project "The People Next Door" (CBS 1989), co-producing three episodes and writing two before the show was cancelled. By 1992, Aronsohn had fully rebounded on the coattails of the ground-breaking hit "Murphy Brown" (CBS 1988-1998), writing 4 episodes and serving as an executive script consultant on another 25.
On the heels of his success with that show, Aronsohn became a producer of the offbeat hit show about a divorced, recovering alcoholic escaping from an abusive marriage, "Grace Under Fire" (ABC 1993-1998). The sitcom was structured around stand-up comic Brett Butler, who had well-publicized clashes with the production team, including creator Chuck Lorre, with whom Aronsohn went on to form a lasting working relationship. By 1995, Lorre and Aronsohn had moved on to "Cybill" (CBS 1995-98), a show that some characterized as an American version of the UK hit "Absolutely Fabulous" (BBC 1992-2004). The show featured Cybill Shepherd as an aging actress struggling to remain relevant and Christine Baranski as her boozy best friend. Aronsohn was co-executive producer on 37 episodes, and wrote four of them. In 1997, he became executive producer and wrote 4 episodes of the short lived series, "Life... and Stuff " (CBS 1997).
By 2003, Aronsohn struck gold with the hit comedy, "Two and a Half Men" (CBS 2003-15). He was not only executive producer and a prolific writer, he also composed the show's theme. The show had an uninterrupted run of success until February 24, 2011, when co-star Charlie Sheen's drug problems prompted CBS and Warner Brothers to pull the plug on production. Sheen was dismissed from the show on March 7 of that year, and was replaced with Ashton Kutcher after a hiatus. In 2007, Aronsohn hit pay dirt once more, as executive producer and writer of the geek-fest juggernaut "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS 2007- ). The show was a ratings bonanza for the network and a critical success as well.
In the midst of the 2012 negotiations to bring Ashton Kutcher on board the embattled "Two and a Half Men," The Hollywood Reporter published several quotes by Aronsohn made during a Toronto Screenwriting Conference that were widely interpreted as misogynistic and immediately triggered a war across social media. Aronsohn's sharp assertions that there were too many female-centric comedies on television had female writers and actors up in arms, leveling the counter-critique that while women weigh in heavily as television consumers, they are widely underrepresented in the industry's writer's rooms. The controversy, which was fueled in part by a history of criticism that "Two and a Half Men" was cruel toward its female characters, cooled off eventually, but not without hurt feelings on all sides.
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