The Charlie Sheen effect was in full force Monday night, helping deliver record ratings to more than one channel.
After Sheen seized control of entertainment news headlines with his well-documented and extremely tumultuous exit from “Two and a Half Men,” most people wondered what would be the fate of the star and his hit sitcom. And despite the seeming Sheen-fatigue that settled in around the time of his “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour, this week’s Nielsen ratings seem to indicate that America still has an interest in the story.
In the first episode of the post-Sheen era, “Two and a Half Men” posted a series high with a total of 28 million viewers tuning in. Sheen’s replacement, Ashton Kutcher, played a heartbroken billionaire and got a good response to the start of his tenure on the show. Despite this change, the occasionally womanizing nature of the show remained intact, as Kutcher’s character was part of a threesome by the episode’s end. The season premiere also featured a funeral for the Charlie Harper character, who was described as dying like an “exploding meat balloon.”
The “Men” season premiere had the highest ratings of any sitcom since the series finale of “Everybody Loves Raymond” drew 32 million viewers in 2005. The episode drew fewer people than last May’s “American Idol” finale (29 million viewers), but whereas “Idol” scored a 9.2 rating among adults 18 to 49, “Men” had a massive 10.3 rating. The show’s ratings were so strong that the “2 Broke Girls” series premiere immediately afterward lost 40 percent of the “Men” audience and yet still managed to become the highest-rated series premiere since NBC’s short-lived 2001 series “Inside Schwartz.”
Later that night the Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen scored the cable channel its highest ratings in almost three years. The broadcast, hosted by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, brought in 6.4 million viewers and an impressive 4.5 rating in adults 18-49, far above the 3.5 million and 2.2 ratings for the Roast of Donald Trump earlier this year. In fact, the Roast of Charlie Sheen had the second highest ratings in Comedy Central’s history, more than the 6.2 million who tuned in for the Roast of Jeff Foxworthy in 2005, and only falling short of the 6.8 million viewers that watched ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s 2008 Christmas Special.
The high Roast ratings come amid a substantial image rehabilitation attempt by Sheen and his people. In an effort to clean up the oft-troubled star’s perception, Sheen laid low for a couple months before agreeing to present Best Actor in a Comedy Series at last weekend’s Emmy awards. He showed up clean-shaven and coherent, a drastic change from the Twitter-friendly ramblings he was noted for earlier this year. The star even posed for a photo backstage with Ashton Kutcher and wished the newest “Two and a Half Men” actor good luck on his Twitter page.
This image revamp comes on the heels of Lionsgate TV announcing their plans to develop a sitcom around Charlie Sheen, based on the 2003 Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson comedy “Anger Management” (Sheen would play the Nicholson role of the crazy counselor). Months ago it was hard to imagine a network taking the risk of hiring a drugged-up actor with a $125 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. TV hanging over him. But now, as Sheen seems close to a $25 million settlement with WBTV, Lionsgate has begun preparations to shop their Sheen series to the various channels. The actor appears to be clean and professional, the type of person that a studio executive would be willing to make a commitment to. With veteran show-runner Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show, George Lopez) now attached to the project, an Anger Management sitcom starring Charlie Sheen seems like a significantly more realistic proposition than when the news first surfaced.