Tim Stack
June 22, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sometimes a little Payne can feel good: On June 6, TBS aired the first two episodes of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne — a family sitcom created by the actor/director/one-man wonder behind films like Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion — and averaged 5.5 million viewers, a record audience for a basic-cable original sitcom premiere. ”All I could do is say, ‘Thank you, Jesus!”’ says Perry, 37, who appeared as sassy matriarch Madea in the debut episode. (Payne earned a healthy 3.2 million in week 2.) The big numbers also proved that the star — who’s been credited with reaching African-American audiences hungry for uplifting stories — can resuscitate even a flagging genre like the family sitcom. Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin, who ordered an unprecedented 100 episodes because of Perry’s ”talent and presold demand,” says he ”couldn’t be happier.”

Perry is happy too — but must also be tired. He’s set to appear opposite Janet Jackson in the November comedy Why Did I Get Married?, and in an effort to expand his budding small-screen empire, Perry has already shot 10 episodes of a sitcom based on his play Meet the Browns. Though he’s still shopping for a TV buyer for Browns, a film version will start shooting with Angela Bassett next month. Somehow, he’s also found time to host his own talk show, slated to stream on his website this summer. The show, which Perry calls ”a cross between Oprah and Leno,” has yet to be picked up by a network — but given Payne’s encouraging numbers, he probably won’t have to wait too long. ”I’d love to have an entire night with three or four sitcoms, a drama, and The Tyler Perry Show,” he says. ”The long-term goal is to own a network.”

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