Charlie Sheen continues to generate great ratings for CBS's "Two and A Half Men" even though he's no longer on the show.
"Two and A Half Men" did football-size ratings in its debut Monday night on CBS, as viewers stoked by the recent controversy involving the program and the departure of its former lead tuned in to see how the sitcom carried on.
According to preliminary results provided by CBS, about 27.7 million people watched see Ashton Kutcher take over in a new lead-character role as scripted by "Two" creator Chuck Lorre. That number is well in excess of the approximately 10.9 million people on average who have tuned into the program between the fall of 2010 and the start of the new 2011-2012 TV season, according to Nielsen.
It's the largest audience and the highest rating among 18-to-49-year-olds, as a matter of fact, in series history.
Last night's performance for "Men" also trumped last season's most-watched regular broadcast, the Wednesday-night airing of Fox's "American Idol." And it beat the 23.4 million people who tuned in to watch what is typically the fall's best-watched program, "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, in its two weeks so far this year. Maybe Ashton Kutcher and co-star Jon Cryer have more drawing power than the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons.
Or maybe interest will die off as quickly as Mr. Sheen's character. It's true, the show debuted with a two-parter, which could bring the same number of viewers back next week to see the show's second episode this season. But it's also worth remembering another program -- TBS's "Conan" -- that debuted to tremendous ratings last year after its star was embroiled in controversy, only to see its viewership decline noticeably once the tabloid glare began to dim.