Comedy Central stuns with 6.6 million viewers

How did a Christmas special starring a little-known comedian and a bunch of cranky puppets manage to become the highest-rated telecast in Comedy Central’s history?

Nobody at the cabler saw it coming, but Sunday’s preem of “Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special” racked up 6.6 million viewers in the 10 p.m. hour. That was enough to beat the cabler’s previous best of 6.2 million viewers harvested from a “South Park” seg in the show’s heyday in 1998.

The Dunham spesh beat by 3 million viewers the top-rated episode of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” which drew 3.6 million viewers Oct. 29 when Barack Obama guested. “The Colbert Report” also hit its highest mark that night with 2.4 million viewers.

Sunday’s puppet spec drew 3.7 million viewers in the 18-49 demo and more than doubled the audience of its lead-in, a previous Dunham special, “Spark of Insanity.”

Dunham’s outing was strong enough to rank as basic cable’s top-rated entertainment program for the week in total viewers and key demos.

Comedy Central execs seemed to be scratching their heads about the turnout as much as everyone else. For once, execs weren’t spinning in saying that the perf exceeded all expectations.

“We were hoping for big numbers, but this is more than we imagined,” said a Comedy Central spokesman.

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