For sitcom stars behaving badly, it didn't seem like it could last--and it didn't.

Justine Bateman will not return to Men Behaving Badly come the fall, and costar Ron Eldard's character likely will be phased out, as well, following a freshman season that saw turmoil on the set of the NBC sitcom. That would make Rob Schneider the last original cast member standing on the show about boorish men and the women who (try to) understand them.

Both Bateman and Eldard, Schneider's TV roomie, were said to be unhappy campers on the series--upset with its creative development and turnover in producers. (Actual mutiny appeared the night the two actors mumbled their lines in a flat monotone through one episode, requiring a retaping.)

NBC closed a deal yesterday that granted Bateman her freedom and paved the way for Eldard's eventual exit. The Carsey-Werner Co., which produces the comedy, would not comment on the reason for the moves. (Representatives for the two actors did not return phone calls this afternoon.)

According to Carsey-Werner spokesman James Anderson, Eldard will make an undetermined number of appearances on Men Behaving Badly in season number two. But it's not likely he'll stick out the year.

In addition to its behind-the-scenes problems, Men Behaving Badly was a ratings underachiever--ending the TV year tied for 79th place. (Women viewers, a.k.a. half the audience, apparently failed to see the humor.) In the fall, the sitcom will be asked to go head-to-head against The X-Files, Sundays at 8 p.m.

New to the beleaguered series in the fall: Kevin Marino, a member of the sketch-comedy troupe The State (as seen on MTV), and Jenica Bergere, last seen in Ink. The two are seen as virtual, if not actual, replacements for the Bateman-Eldard characters.

Men Behaving Badly was Justine Bateman's first foray into sitcoms since she made her name as a teenager on the long-running Family Ties. That series ended in 1989. Bateman, now 31, said she had wanted to do a series again, but the timing was never right, until Men Behaving Badly came along. "It just feels like this is where I'm supposed to be," she once said.

On second thought, maybe not.

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