Angusgate: Much Ado About Nothing

Whether he stays or goes, Two and a Half Men star has little impact on show

For those of us quietly hoping that Two and a Half Men co-star Angus T. Jones would embark on a Tiger Blood/Bitchin’ Rock Star From Mars media junket following his recent outburst about the show, it looks like the 19-year-old actor is going the more traditional route.

A day after Jones characterized 2.5 Men as “filth” and urged fans to “please stop watching it,” the young actor walked it back, issuing a statement in which he expressed his gratitude for his 10-year stint on the CBS comedy.

“Without qualification, I am grateful to and have the highest regard and respect for all of the wonderful people on Two and a Half Men,” Jones said, adding that the show’s co-creator Chuck Lorre, Warner Bros. TV studio boss Peter Roth and CBS were all “responsible for what has been one of the most significant experiences” in his life.

Jones, who had said that Men’s juvenile humor conflicted with his Christianity—the show’s stock in trade is jokes about masturbation, drug use and the less exalted bodily functions—went on to apologize for his apparent disrespect toward his colleagues.

Although Jones’ original video testimonial included the revelation that he no longer wants to be on the show, he added that he remains under contract through the end of the season. Thus far, neither the studio nor the network has indicated that it would invalidate Jones’ deal, which is reportedly worth between $300,000 and $350,000 per episode.

Whether Jones stays or goes is immaterial, as his character has already begun being slowly phased out. He’s already expected to miss at least two upcoming episodes, as his titular half-man has joined the Army.

After a steep decline in ratings in the 2010-11 season (the last with embattled actor Charlie Sheen in the starring role), Men got a shot in the arm with the addition of Ashton Kutcher and the comic resolution of Sheen’s story line. Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the show was the second highest-rated scripted series on television last year, averaging 12.7 million viewers and a 4.2 in the adults 18-49 demo.

After moving from its Monday night perch to Thursdays at 8:30 p.m., where it leads out of mega-hit The Big Bang Theory, Men’s ratings have eroded somewhat. While the show is up slightly in total deliveries, averaging 12.9 million viewers through the first eight episodes, its 3.8 rating marks a 10 percent decline in the demo.

Perhaps more significantly, Men is not retaining nearly enough of its generous lead-in. Season to date, Big Bang is averaging a whopping 15.9 million viewers and a 5.0 in the demo, which means that 3 million viewers are churning away when Men’s opening credits begin to roll. Worse still, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of the demo is going elsewhere.

While none of this is exactly being met with high-fives among the CBS ad sales crew, it’s worth noting that Men is surpassing its ratings guarantees. Advertising rates have been steady as well. Clients who invested in the show during the 2012-13 upfront bazaar paid roughly $250,000 per 30-second spot, a unit cost that is essentially flat versus the year-ago period.

Before the season began, media buyers roundly applauded CBS for shifting Men to the post-Big Bang slot, noting that Thursday night remains the most important day on the calendar for movie studios and retail—two categories that have been stalwart supporters of the series.

Still, there are buyers who say they represent a fair number of clients who want nothing to do with the raunchy comedy. “People are knocking down my door to get on The Big Bang Theory, which does huge numbers and doesn’t have any content issues,” said one TV buyer, who added that Men’s content issues makes it less universally beloved. “Some of the people we do business with don’t want their brands surrounded by fart jokes. Some—the movie guys, the videogame guys—don’t care. Different strokes.”

As for Jones and his $8 million salary, fans of the show could do worse than keep a close eye on Lorre’s vanity cards. The famously loquacious showrunner is in the habit of cramming all sorts of behind-the-scenes intrigue into the logo of his production company.