Second in a series on fall's ratings losers and gainers.
Ten months after "Two and a Half Men" looked destined for cancellation, TV's top rated sitcom is the biggest ratings gainer of the new fall season -- and anchors a CBS Monday night that looks unstoppable.
Charlie Sheen's firing on March 7 could easily have been the end of the series. Warner Bros. TV, which produces the show, was ominously silent about its future. Suggestions about possible Sheen replacements -- Rob Lowe? John Stamos? -- quickly fizzled out.
Things couldn't be more different now. An analysis by TheWrap of this fall's network ratings (see chart) finds that "Men" has climbed 39.1 percent in the prized 18-49 demo -- far more than any other show. (We looked at the start of the season through the week of Nov. 13, compared to the same period last year.)
"I don't think there's any question it validates the move to bring it back," said Kelly Kahl, CBS's senior executive vice president of primetime.
"When we were sitting around in May talking about what we would be happy with, we all agreed: If we were anywhere close to where we were a year ago, we'd be thrilled."
The show has far exceeded such expectations -- and also those of Sheen. Soon after Ashton Kutcher was named as his replacement, Sheen predicted in May that the show would average a mere 2.0 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds.
"Enjoy the show, America," he told TMZ. "Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB."
Try three times that. The show is averaging a 6.4 rating, far better than the 4.6 it earned last year with Sheen in the lead. It has averaged 17.8 million total viewers.
It anchors a bulletproof Monday comedy block for CBS, which also includes another Chuck Lorre comedy, "Mike & Molly," as well as "How I Met Your Mother" and the new "2 Broke Girls," the season's highest-rated new series.
To seize on the tremendous curiousity around the revamped "Men," CBS followed its Sept. 19 premiere with the debut of "Girls," which had the network's best-testing pilot ever.
"Men" returned to an explosive 10.3 rating and 27.7 million total viewers. "Girls" arrived to a 7 rating and 19.1 million.
Also read: CBS Wins Monday -- by Airing Reruns
Both shows have since slipped from those numbers -- "Girls" to a 5.5 demo rating and 13.8 million. But they remain among the most formidable shows on the air.
Last week, CBS won Monday night airing reruns -- yes, reruns -- even as its competitors offered mostly new shows. (ABC aired a mix of holiday specials, a "Castle" rerun, and the tanking new game show "You Deserve It.)"
Not only is CBS winning, but it's winning for less. Kutcher earns below $1 million an episode, compared to the nearly $2 million Sheen received, including syndication royalties and other payouts.
Sheen received a $25 million settlement when he sued over his firing, but it covered back-end payments he would have received in any case.
Next in this series: Is Streaming the Answer to the CW's Ratings Woes?