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Emmy awards show attracts smallest audience since 2008

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Against a rousing football game on NBC, Fox’s broadcast of the Primetime Emmy Awards attracted an average of only 12.5 million people — the trophy show’s smallest audience since its famously disastrous 2008 broadcast on ABC.

Last year’s Emmy show bagged about 1 million more viewers than Sunday’s, according to early reports (final national stats won’t be in until Tuesday morning).

Meanwhile, an estimated 18 million viewers watched Michael Vick, with the Philadelphia Eagles, return to Atlanta to face his former team for the first time as the Eagles’ starting quarterback (the Eagles lost, 35-31). Against that kind of drama, this year’s Emmy host, Jane Lynch — and the celebrity backup-singing group calling itself the EmmyTones for the night — hadn’t a prayer.

Sunday night’s award-fest seemed to peak between 8:30 and 9 p.m. — about the time of that “surprise” appearance by fired “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen. He proceeded to give a riveting performance as a fairly normal, reasonable guy, telling America that he wished the team behind “Men” the very best luck this TV season.

The surge seemed to last until about 9:30 — right around the time Sheen’s “Men” replacement, Ashton Kutcher, appeared as a presenter with his new “Men” co-star Jon Cryer and immediately secured the night’s win for Most Disturbing Lack of Chemistry.

Ratings-wise, the ceremony went downhill from there. Because, it turns out, a limited number of people were excited by even the surprise win of Kyle Chandler, star of the barely watched “Friday Night Lights”; he was named the year’s best drama-series actor.

Also failing to ignite the viewing masses in the ceremony’s final spurt was PBS’s “Downton Abbey’s” David-vs.-Goliath victory over HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” for best movie or miniseries. By the time ABC’s “Modern Family” repeated its best comedy series win and “Mad Men” tightened its death grip on the best drama series trophy, only about 10.6 million people were tuned in.

Back in 2008, the trophy show coughed up similarly depressed ratings. That’s the year the TV academy decided a herd of reality-series hosts should host the trophy show. Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron and Howie Mandel then got together and decided it would be fun to ditch the planned opening bit and wing it without prepared material. The result was historically bad. (Compounding the problem, ABC, like the other broadcast networks, was still struggling to regain its ratings footing after the writers’ strike.)

On the bright side, Fox noted niche-ily Monday, this year’s Emmy broadcast scored the franchise’s highest rating in four years among 18-to-34-year-olds — which was the last time Fox aired the trophy show.

Charlie Sheen nears settlement

Just hours before CBS’s debut of its first Charlie Sheen-less season of hit sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” word broke out that a deal was being wrapped between the production company and the actor that would settle their multimillion-dollar kerfuffle over his firing.

“There is no deal,” a Warner Bros. TV spokesman told The TV Column early Monday evening; he would not elaborate.

But some big fat clues — signaling to The Reporters Who Cover Television that a deal is imminent — have erupted in the past few days. Last week, a surprisingly contrite Sheen turned up on Jay Leno’s NBC late-night show and said he would have fired himself, too, were he Warner Bros. He gave a repeat peformance the next morning on NBC’s “Today.” And then there was Sheen’s aforementioned warm wishes while a presenter at the Emmys.

The settlement is expected to restore to Sheen those payments for the cut of the show’s profits from repeats that he was getting prior to suing Warner Bros. Sheen’s contract on the program had called for him to make about $2 million per episode, of which about $1.2 million was his salary for his services as show star; most of the remaining money presumably represented his slice of the syndication pie.

The Sheen vs. Warner Bros. fracas erupted in January, when the studio shut down production so Sheen, whose partying ways were among TMZ’s favorite ongoing sagas, could get treatment for substance abuse. Just weeks later, Sheen insisted he was ready to get back to work, but Warner Bros. and show creator Chuck Lorre announced otherwise. So Sheen took to the airwaves and ranted loud, long and nasty.

The studio shut down the show for the rest of the year. Sheen ratcheted up the rhetoric. The studio sacked him because, it said basically, the guy was cockeyed. Sheen filed his suit. A California Superior Court judge decided the fracas had to go to arbitration because of the terms of his contract. TMZ producers wept. Sheen launched his “Torpedo of Truth” tour, which included Washington.

More recently, the actor closed a deal with Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury to star in a new comedy series, loosely based on the “Anger Management” flick, that is being shopped around to networks and syndicators. Naturally, interested parties want to know that the star of the show can do the job for 100 episodes or so before signing on the dotted line.

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