Record crowds turned out Monday night to watch Charlie Sheen be killed off on one television network and resurrected on another.
Nearly 29 million people caught Monday night’s expunging of Sheen from the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” That’s the long-running show’s largest audience — ever. It’s also the biggest season-debut audience for any scripted program on television since 2005.
Also making money off Sheen on Monday night: Comedy Central, as 6.4 million tuned into the first airing of a Sheen roast. That’s the franchise’s biggest audience ever, edging out the record holder: the Jeff Foxworthy roast of 2005 (6.2 million). Comedy Central is particularly happy that more than half of the throng were 18-to-34-year-olds, the network’s target audience.
The “Men” season opener also clocked the show’s biggest-ever audience among CBS’s target audience: 18-to-49-year-olds. In the episode, Sheen’s Charlie Harper is described as having died when he slipped on a Paris Metro station platform, fell in front of a train and exploded like “a balloon filled with meat.”
Nearly 11 percent of the country’s audience in the 18-to-49 age bracket tuned into the show to see how creator Chuck Lorre would introduce Ashton Kutcher, who joined the show Monday as a lovelorn Internet billionaire named Walden Schmidt, who buys Charlie’s Malibu pad and yet somehow 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 an eight-season-old series is the very definition of ginormous ratings.
Previously, the biggest audience “Men” had snared was the 24 million who watched an episode that aired May 16, 2005, immediately after the series finale of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
In much the same way the demise of “Raymond” helped “Men,” the demise of Charlie Harper was a gift 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 2001.
Monday night was probably CBS’s last chance to make some coin off 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 that he was good to go weeks later, but Warner and Lorre disagreed. Sheen took to the airwaves to rant. Warner Bros. shut down the show for the rest of the TV season. Sheen ratcheted up the rhetoric. The studio sacked him. Sheen filed a $100 million suit. A judge said it would have to be arbitrated privately because of the actor’s contract with the studio. Sheen launched his Torpedo of Truth national tour. Warner Bros. cast 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 Sheen and 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 ABC’s “Castle,” which handily won the hour as nearly 14 million fans tuned in — the show’s biggest season-premiere audience yet.
And for those of you wondering what NBC was thinking of when it threw its new, much-ballyhooed “Playboy Club” into the intense Monday-at-10 competition, which includes “Castle” and CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O,” your answer may be “the season’s first cancellation.”
The drama about characters who frequent and work in the original Playboy Club in Chicago in the ’60s attracted a mere 5 million viewers — and only a 1.6 rating in the plum age bracket that advertisers lust after.
On the bright side, that would be a monster number were the show on, say, AMC, as is “Mad Men” — the stylish ’60s-set Madison Avenue drama that is credited with inspiring “Playboy Club” and ABC’s new “Pan Am.”
But, sadly, “Playboy Club” is not. That said, the show appears to have a close commercial relationship with the Playboy company — ka-ching — and if it’s run like “Mad Men,” other product placements will abound in coming episodes. In which case, ratings aren’t the only factor that will determine this show’s fate.