If there’s one TV story everyone was talking about this year, it was the big shake-up at Two and a Half Men. Charlie Sheen’s bizarre rants and self-destruction led to the star of Two and a Half Men abruptly getting fired and being replaced by Ashton Kutcher.

But the big question now is what will happen when Two and a Half Men returns in the fall, Sheen-free and full of the Kutch. Today CBS President Les Moonves revealed that he has extremely high expectations for Kutcher’s debut. He said that he expects “huge numbers” for the season 9 premiere of Two and a Half Men, even suggesting that it could be as high as the AFC Championship game on CBS, which brought in more than 50 million viewers.

Now I think that’s a bit extreme, but I do understand his point. I personal hate Two and a Half Men and refuse to watch it, but I’m so intrigued by this story that I am definitely going to tune in to see how they handle Sheen’s departure and Kutcher’s arrival. If I’m any indication, then Two and a Half Men is going to get a lot of new or first-time viewers when it returns.

So how big will it get? The most-watched episode of Two and a Half Men came when it followed the series finale of Everybody Loves Raymond, getting more than 24 million viewers. In its recent eighth season, the show averaged just over 14 million viewers per episode.

I expect the buzz around Sheen’s exit and the power of Ashton Kutcher’s nearly 7 million Twitter followers will give it a big boost and probably even beat Two and a Half Men‘s 24-million-viewer record. But to reach the AFC Championship level, something really big would need to happen. The last time a scripted series was watched by more than 50 million people was the Friends series finale in 2004.

Also important is when Two and a Half Men returns. Mondays at 9pm, the show will be competing against House and Dancing with the Stars, two solid shows. If CBS is smart and wants to maximize viewers, it will try to premiere Two and a Half Men early, before DWTS comes backs. If it can do that, I could see an even bigger number, possibly cracking 30 million viewers.

Undoubtedly there will be a lot of buzz leading up to Kutcher’s Two and a Half Men debut, but just how many people tune in will be the biggest test for the show’s future (and just as important will be how many people stick around for his second episode).

If I have to make an educated guess, I’ll go with 27 million viewers. I think there are going to be a lot of people like me who don’t care for Two and a Half Men, but who are so fascinated by the Charlie Sheen drama that they watch just to see what happens.

How big do you think the return of Two and a Half Men will be?

(Image courtesy of CBS)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.