It wouldn't be a Rules of Engagement season without more bumps in the road.
Just when things were looking up for the sitcom — moving to Thursdays after being scheduled on Saturdays — it was dealt a blow this week: CBS will pull it off the schedule at midseason to make way for Rob Schneider's new comedy and has cut its episode order down to 15.
CBS replaces Rules with ¡ROB!; sets return date for Undercover Boss
The news is just another chapter in the topsy-turvy life of the show, which has been shuffled around the schedule since its midseason premiere in 2007, and it comes as no surprise to star Patrick Warburton.
"If they're going to pull one show for midseason, they're going to pull us. They've done that every single year," he tells TVGuide.com. "They're not going to pull a Chuck Lorre show. He's so firmly established and he's got a huge success ratio with them. ... They haven't supported us from the very beginning. Whenever we end up in a decent time slot, we always do well, but they've never given us any support."
After Rules bailed CBS out twice last year — when $#*! My Dad Says got axed and when Charlie Sheen's antics forced Rules to produce extra episodes to compensate for Two and a Half Men's shortened season — the network exiled it to Saturdays this season, which Warburton called a "sh-- time slot." It was bumped up to Thursdays before its scheduled premiere when How to Be a Gentleman got canceled, and it continues to pull in solid ratings, averaging about 11 million viewers.
"[The Saturday slot] was bullsh-- from the very beginning. I couldn't believe it," Warburton says. "The only reason we ended up in the Thursday slot was because another show was tanking and they were desperately in need of us. It's been a real rocky road for the show. The first season, we only did seven episodes. ... At that point, they wished they had more episodes. We got a full season the next year and it was the writers' strike. I also felt like the writing was a little bumpy then. We weren't consistent either. And then it was back to midseason. We've gotten a raw end of the deal an awful lot, but that's just the way the ball bounces."
Rules of Engagement boss: We're the stepchild of the schedule, but we're always there
Warburton has always been vocal about the network's treatment of Rules, but he insists it's not because of sour grapes. For one, it's not exactly a new development. "This isn't news. News is that Iran has nuclear capabilities and that an institution like Penn State and Joe Paterno can swipe child rape under the carpet," he says. "It's always been this way. I'm always going to express my opinion. I'm not off the mark at all. ... Let's just call a spade a spade."
While creator Tom Hertz sees Rules' second-stringer rank as half-full, Warburton says his outlook has sullied as the years have gone on. But the vibe on the set has always been positive. "These aren't ridiculous tears of the sitcom clown. ... We have a lot of fun. This is our sixth year of being bounced around. It's great to see really great numbers right now, but we know that that doesn't change anything," he says. "One has to wonder if this was a show that they had nurtured and kept in the same spot, promoted it, then maybe we could be doing even better now and be a much better show for it. The show's good, but there's a lot of elements to success."
One element is what Warburton calls an "extremely, extremely loyal fan base" that has followed Rules wherever it goes on the schedule. The actor chalks it up to the show's relatable focus on relationships, which he says has been enhanced by Adhir Kalyan's promotion to series regular in Season 4. "A lot of shows are great, but aren't relatable," he says. "Anybody who's in a relationship can relate to our show. Jeff and Audrey — if you've been in a relationship for 10, 15 years, there's stuff in every episode that you can laugh at and say, 'I've dealt with that sh--.' I think that's something that's been a hook with the audience."
How Rules of Engagement manages to survive as TV's stealth hit
Jeff (Warburton) and Audrey (Megyn Price) are expecting a baby via their surrogate Brenda (Sara Rue), the birth of which was initially targeted for the season finale. It is unclear how the episode cut will affect the plans — and if there will be a seventh season. Rules' status as a reliable, steady, go-to player would bode well for its renewal chances, but like everything else involving the show, Warburton knows anything can happen.
"They know that we have a solid show with a solid audience with enough [episodes] to syndicate, so they'll do what they want to do," he says. "Our job is just to go to work and do the best job we can and hope for the best."