Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage

At tonight’s PaleyFest panel on Two And A Half Men, co-creators/executive producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn and star Ashton Kutcher wouldn’t give a straight answer as to whether Kutcher will be back next season. Kutcher has been in talks for a new deal, which would seal the series’ renewal for a tenth season. “Here’s the thing, I don’t think that the show’s been picked up for another year,” Kutcher told moderator Michael Schneider of TV Guide Magazine. “I’m absolutely adoring the time that I’m having, but I haven’t heard from the powers that be yet, so I don’t know.”

Lorre also was coy, saying the decision “is above my pay grade.” On the renewal front, “It’s unusual when they cancel a show that’s in the Top 10. I think there’s hope,” he said but indicated that Men will only return with Kutcher on board. “I think reinventing the show going forward, everybody has to sign back up,” he said.

If Two And Half Men comes back, Lorre and Aronsohn did confirm that Courtney Thorne-Smith and Judy Greer, who portray the girlfriend/ex-wife of Jon Cryer’s Alan Harper and Kutcher’s man-child character Walden Schmidt, respectively, will continue to be part of the show. Lorre said the show has outgrown “the bimbo of the week” of Charlie Sheen era and is now about relationships. The producers also announced that Angus T. Jones’ slow-witted charmer Jake will graduate from high school this season, but no guarantees of college. The panelists not confirm whether Holland Taylor’s Evelyn Harper would continue this season’s surprise budding lesbian relationship with Jean (Georgia Engel), the sweet widowed mother of Courtney Thorne-Smith’s character. Taylor quipped that Engel didn’t know the story line when she signed on but “when we kissed, she got the drift. ”

Most members of the panel—which included Lorre, Aronsohn, Cryer, Taylor, Jones and Conchata Ferrell – said they were surprised and gratified that the show had succeeded in its ninth season after the noisy departure of Sheen. “This is a miracle that we’re here – thank you for watching the show,” Lorre told the crowd. “A year ago, we thought the show was over.” Added Cryer, “What surprised me was that it retained its fan base. It’s such a joy to continue doing this guy.” He added he thought his character had suffered every possible humiliation in the first 8 seasons but “oh no, I hadn’t—they lit my crotch on fire” in Season 9.

Surprisingly, the audience Q&A portion did not feature a single reference to Sheen but included a question that elicited a stronger commitment from Kutcher to staying on Men. He was asked if there were any actors out there he always wanted to work with. “I’ve been really lucky in my career to work with unbelievable people, I’ve learned something from almost everyone I’ve worked with, “ he said. “It’s a weird bunch of people, actors – we’re creeps. We are like some kooky sons of bitches.  For me, it’s really the magic of getting to know someone you’re working with.  And right now, I want to work with these guys.”