Kutcher-led show boosts entire Monday comedy block

Three weeks into its post-Charlie Sheen life, “Two and a Half Men” is still primetime’s most popular comedy.

Ashton Kutcher’s debut as the new lead of the CBS sitcom Sept. 19 drew a whopping 28.7 million viewers and a 10.7 rating among adults 18-49 — numbers not seen on a regular basis by any comedy since NBC’s “Friends.”

The show predictably fell off over the next weeks (to 20.5 million Sept. 26 and 17.7 million Oct. 3), but it was still big enough to rule as TV’s No. 1 entertainment series in demos for a third straight week — and was nearly 40% above last year’s third “Men” seg with Sheen.

While it’s unlikely the show will stay at this lofty level, it has clearly rejuvenated the entire Monday comedy block for CBS. In a fall when auds were clearly ready to laugh, the Eye was a big beneficiary from the start.

On the opening night of the season, CBS smartly used the anticipated huge tune-in for “Men” at 9 p.m. to lead into new comedy “2 Broke Girls,” which drew 19.4 million (and a 7.1 demo rating) before settling into its regular 8:30 p.m. slot with two strong perfs that earned it a quick full-season pickup. Vet “How I Met Your Mother” is off to a very strong start at 8 (up about 30% vs. last year), and “Mike & Molly” is sturdy in its second season in the post-“Men” slot at 9:30 (up about 15%).

About the only bad news on the comedy front this fall for CBS is the performance of its new Thursday show “How to Be a Gentleman,” which has fumbled away nearly half of its substantial “The Big Bang Theory” lead-in.

While Monday has been the signature CBS comedy night since the days of “I Love Lucy,” the net would like to expand its comedy presence from two to four comedies on Thursday, where NBC’s critically approved laffers are having a hard time making much of a ratings dent beyond “The Office.”

Between the four Monday comedies, “Big Bang” and on-the-bench vet “Rules of Engagement,” the Eye has six viable half-hours to work with. And if auds continue to tune in for Kutcher on Monday anchor “Men,” CBS might feel ready to dive headfirst into Thursday comedy next fall.

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