‘Bye-bye Charlie!’ say 29 million ‘Two and a Half Men’ viewers


Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) and Walden Schmidt (Ashton Kutcher). (DANNY FELD/WARNER BROS.)

Nearly 29 million people caught the expunging of Charlie Sheen from CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” Monday night. That’s the long-running sitcom’s largest audience — ever.It’s also the biggest season-debut audience for any scripted program on any network since 2005.

Also making money off Sheen on Monday night: 6.4 million tuned in to the premiere of Comedy Central’s Charlie Sheen roast. That’s the franchise’s biggest audience ever – edging out the previous record holder: the Jeff Foxworthy roast of 2005 (6.2 million). Comedy Central is particularly happy that more than half the throng was made up of 18-34 year olds – the network’s target audience. Wiliam Shatner, Mike Tyson, and Kate Walsh joined a panel of Comedy Central regulars to savage/glorify the actor, who’s now better known for his off-screen antics than his body of work.

The “Men” episode — in which Sheen’s Charlie Harper is described as having been killed when he slipped on a platform at a Paris Metro station, fell in front of an oncoming train, and exploded like “a balloon filled with meat” -- also clocked its biggest ever audience among CBS’s target audience: 18-49 year-olds.

Nearly 11 percent of the country’s audience in that age bracket tuned in to the show to see how creator Chuck Lorre would explain Ashton Kutcher, who joined the show Monday as a lovelorn internet billionaire named Walden Schmidt who buys Charlie’s Malibu pad and yet someone wants Charlie’s impecunious brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and son Jake to remain.

(The answer: He’s emotionally immature.)

A 10.7 rating in that demographic group for a eight-season-old series is the very definition of ginormous ratings in this TV landscape.

Previously, the biggest audience “Men” had ever snared was the 24 million who watched an episode that aired on Monday, May 16, 2005, immediately after the series finale of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

In much the same way “Raymond’s demise helped “Men” back then, the demise of Charlie Harper was a gift handed to the new CBS sitcom that followed. “2 Broke Girls” nabbed 19.4 million viewers – the biggest crowd for a fall comedy premiere since September of 2001.

Monday night was CBS’s last chance to make some coin off of the Sheen saga.

In case you missed it, back in January, Warner Bros TV shut down production on the network’s hit sitcom so that Sheen, whose partying ways kept TMZ in material, could get treatment for substance abuse. Sheen insisted he was good to go weeks later, but WBTV and show creator Chuck Lorre disagreed; Sheen took to the airwaves to rant. Warner Bros. shut down the show for the rest of the TV season. Sheen ratched up the rhetoric. The studio sacked him. Sheen filed a $100 million suit. A judge said it would have to be artibrated privately because of the actor’s contract with the studio. Sheen launched his Torpedo of Truth national tour. Warner Bros. cast Ashton Kutcher to replace Sheen. Everybody took a breather.

Anyway, all these Sheen-fueled ratings are very good news for Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury, which is developing a new comedy series starring the actor, loosely based on the “Anger Management” flick.

But there was other, non-Sheen ratings news on the first night of the 2011-12 TV season as well.

At 10 p.m. Monday, attention shifted to the season debut of CBS’s “Castle” which handily won the hour with nearly 14 million fans tuned in. And for those of you wondering what NBC was thinking of, throwing its new, much ballyhooed “Playboy Club” into the intense Monday at 10 competition that includes “Castle” and CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O,” your answer may be “the season’s first cancellation.”

The 60’s-set drama series about characters who frequent and work in the original Playboy Club in Chicago attracted a mere 5 million curious and only a 1.6 rating in the plum age bracket advertisers lust after.

On the bright side, that would be a monster number, were the show on AMC network, like “Mad Men” – the stylish 60’s-set Madison Avenue drama that is credited with inspiring NBC’s “Playboy Club” as well as ABC’s new “PanAm.” Too bad it’s not.

That said, the NBC drama series appears to have a close commercial relationship with the Playboy company — ka-ching — and, if it’s run like “Mad Men,” other product placement will abound in upcoming episodes. In which case ratings aren’t the only factor that will determine this show’s fate.

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