“Two and a Half Men” roared back onto CBS Monday night with huge ratings that are the talk of the TV industry.
How huge? Just shy of 28 million viewers – specifically 27.759 million, according to Nielsen overnights. That kind of audience tally for a prime-time scripted sitcom hasn’t been seen for – well, we’re not sure how long, but more on that in a moment.
But first, this: Obviously, this episode of “Two and a Half Men” was highly anticipated, but even CBS must have been shocked by the level of interest the overnight number represented. This episode ushered in the high-rated sitcom’s ninth season and, in just one half-hour, managed to both say farewell to wayward star Charlie Sheen (with a brutal “funeral” send-off) and introduce incoming leading man Ashton Kutcher.
Certainly, the publicity preceding this episode was unprecedented. Nor was it planned – it all stemmed from Sheen’s high-profile dismissal last March and then the subsequent casting of Kutcher last May on the eve of CBS’s annual fall-lineup presentation to advertisers in New York. The conclusion? It was Sheen himself who provided the lion’s share of the publicity with his months of tirades against the show and executive producer Chuck Lorre, who must be having the last laugh now.
How big is that 27.759 million viewership tally? To put it in perspective, let’s look at a handful of other iconic TV shows. For example, back in the ’90s, “Seinfeld” – one of the most revered shows in the history of television – averaged 21.27 million viewers per episode in its highest-rated season on NBC, its last one in 1997-98. Another legendary NBC sitcom, “Friends,” averaged 24.5 million in its eighth season (2001-02). And that was in an era when viewers had fewer choices than they do today.
More recently, “American Idol” has been TV’s highest-rated series, and the premiere Monday night of “Two and a Half Men” even beat last season’s average for “Idol” – 25.864 million on Wednesdays and 23.798 million on Thursdays.
CBS, of course, has to be ecstatic over the Monday results. Not only does it likely ensure that millions will return next Monday for Episode Two (although how many will return is a big, open question), but it lifted the network’s other shows – most notably “2 Broke Girls,” the new sitcom that premiered after “Men.” Thanks to Ashton Kutcher, “Girls” drew an incredible 19.154 million for its debut – probably ensuring that it, too, will establish itself as another Monday night comedy hit for CBS.