'Philadelphia' pulls its best Thursday numbers

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” has started off big in its third primetime season on FX, soaring to its best numbers ever on Thursday: 2.3 million total viewers, of whom 77% were adults 18-49.

Nielsen perf for the 10 o’clock half-hour is noteworthy because of the unusually sharp increases from the second-season kickoff on June 29, 2006 — up 62% in total viewers and 77% in adults 18-49.

“Sunny” was going up against reruns on the broadcast networks Thursday, but the industry will be watching its performance when original episodes of competitive series such as CBS’ “Without a Trace” and NBC’s “ER” kick in later this month.

“Sunny” nevertheless looks like a comedy player, joining a batch of other original sitcoms that are driving viewers to basic cable in big numbers for the first time. Comedy Central scored its best number for a live-action comedy series earlier this year with “The Sarah Silverman Show,” and TBS is crowing about three comedies that drew solid audiences over the summer: the returning “My Boys” and rookies “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” and “The Bill Engvall Show.”

“Silverman,” “My Boys” and “Engvall” have all landed renewals, and TBS has committed to 100 half-hours of “Payne.”

On FX, the second original episode of “Sunny” at 10:30 fell off to a still gaudy 1.86 million viewers, improving on the similar lead-out episode 15 months ago by 20%. The 10:30 episode on Thursday performed even better in adults 18-49 (up 45%) and 18-34 (up 95%).

For the next four weeks, FX will carry two original episodes of “Sunny” back to back on Thursday at 10. For five weeks after that, the net will play an original half-hour of “Sunny” at 10 and a repeat at 10:30.

The stars of “Sunny” are also three of its exec producers: Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day. McElhenney is the creator of the series; the two other exec producers are Michael Rotenberg and Nick Frenkel. Danny DeVito continues as a regular since joining the cast last season.

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