Comedy gives boost to 'Californication'

Emmy acclaim and strong critical buzz helped Showtime’s “Weeds” set a ratings record Monday and provided a solid boost to its lead-out, newcomer “Californication.”

Third-season premiere of “Weeds” attracted 824,000 viewers Monday at 10, up 43% over last year’s season premiere. More importantly, the seg ranked as the most-watched episode of “Weeds” yet, indicating growing viewer interest in the laffer.

News was particularly sweet for Showtime execs given that rival HBO has just put the knife in another failed newcomer, “John From Cincinnati.”

Showtime’s latest, the David Duchovny starrer “Californication,” made the most of its lead-in. It averaged 550,000 viewers in its 10:30 p.m. Monday outing, for Showtime’s best scripted comedy debut ever. (Short-lived nonscripted comedy “Fat Actress” holds the record for the net.)

“Californication” bow also beat the series debut of “Weeds,” which drew 488,000 viewers for its first outing in 2005.

Showtime entertainment prexy Bob Greenblatt said he was psyched by the numbers, particularly the fact “that ‘Weeds’ has firmly planted itself as a really big hit for us.”

Exec also noted the net “doesn’t have the biggest marketing presence in the world, and we don’t have the benefit of on-air promotion since our universe is so small.”

Indeed, Showtime spent far more marketing to bow “The Tudors,” which averaged just a few thousand more premiere viewers than “Weeds.”

While he said he wasn’t going to “make any pronouncements,” Greenblatt sounded optimistic about a season two of “Californication.”

“I think it’s a good bet,” he said. “We always try to give our shows time to grow and to find themselves creatively.”

Not surprisingly, “Californication” did lose a big chunk of the inflated audience that tuned in for “Weeds,” shedding around 35% of its viewer tally. However, counting Showtime homes vs. actual viewers, the skein retained a much better 79% of its lead-in.

Counting a same-night encore showing, “Californication” attracted a total of 795,000 viewers, while “Weeds” notched 1.2 million. Figures from Nielsen measured live plus same-day viewing and don’t take into account what’s likely to be heavy DVR usage figures for both skeins.

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