'Payne' brings TBS big gain in ratings

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Boxoffice draw Tyler Perry has worked his magic in television. The multihyphenate's new comedy series, "House of Payne," ranked as basic cable's No. 1 sitcom telecast of all time in its debut on TBS on Wednesday night.

The show -- created, directed and produced by Perry -- made its series premiere with two back-to-back episodes from 9-10 p.m., with an average of 5.2 million total viewers tuning in to the 9 p.m. episode and 5.8 million watching at 9:30 p.m., according to Nielsen Media Research. That's good enough to give the 9:30 p.m. episode the ranking as basic cable's top sitcom telecast of all time among total viewers as well as in the key adult demos of 18-34 (1.4 million), 18-49 (3.1 million) and 25-54 (3 million), TBS said.

The network said the 9:30 p.m. episode also ranks as its top series telecast ever among key adult demos and viewers as well as basic cable's No. 1 scripted series telecast for the year-to-date among 18-49 and 25-54.

Also good news for TBS was the fact that the 9:30 p.m. episode of "Payne" built on the 9 p.m. episode (which became the No. 2 sitcom telecast ever on basic cable), with 18-34 viewership up 21% (from 1.2 million), 18-49 up 12% (from 2.7 million), 25-54 up 9% (from 2.7 million) and total viewers up 12%.

Over the hour, "Payne" even beat head-to-head broadcast competition, outperforming a new episode of the CW Network's "One Tree Hill" (2.2 million viewers).

Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, who oversees TBS, said he was happy and even somewhat surprised at how big the numbers were.

"We weren't expecting the best of all time," he said. "We had high hopes, but even our highest hopes were exceeded."

"Payne," which revolves around the lives of three generations of a black family living under one roof, stars Allen Payne, LaVan Davis and Cassi Davis. Perry made an appearance in the premiere episode as his alter ego Madea.

TBS acquired the first-run syndicated sitcom from Debmar-Mercury in the summer in a deal that gave the network access to what the parties said was an "unprecedented 100 fully produced episodes provided upfront." Koonin said the show's performance bodes well for the future of "Payne" as well as the upcoming TBS original comedy series "The Bill Engvall Show," which debuts July 17.

"I think the subject of family and being able to relate to family is universal," Koonin said, noting that the same theme runs through "Payne's" lead-in, off-net sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "Engvall." "I also think Tyler has such a significant fan base, and the combination of his brand and strong broad appeal with a unique and underserved audience worked well."

TBS said that data on "Payne's" black viewership will be released today.

TBS has "Payne" exclusively until September 2008, when it launches in broadcast syndication. The series will continue to air Wednesdays with back-to-back episodes at 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Perry recently inked a deal to portray Madea and Uncle Joe in "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns," his fifth film for Lionsgate Films and fourth as director, slated for release next year (HR 6/7). His fourth Lionsgate feature, "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" is targeted for a Nov. 16 release.
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