David Spade, Wendi McLendon-Covey
Tom Hertz was waiting for the call, like he usually does.
After CBS pushed his Rules of Engagement's dreaded Saturday premiere one week to Oct. 15 (which was already punted from Sept. 24), he knew it would get called up to the plate for a prime weekday slot soon. How to Be a Gentleman had premiered in the coveted post-Big Bang Theory Thursday berth to weak numbers and didn't seem long for this world (measured against CBS' high standards). "They told us we would not be premiering on the 8th, but instead the 15th, and I figured that meant they were going to give How to Be a Gentleman one more shot airing to see if it went up, and if not, then we would jump in at some point," Hertz tells TVGuide.com. "But yeah, I didn't believe we would air on the 15th."
CBS moves How to Be a Gentleman to Saturdays; Rules takes Thursdays slot
The call came Friday, Oct. 7 after Gentleman posted an even worse ratings erosion. The shows will swap time slots, though CBS has since pulled Gentleman from Saturdays as well.
"For all the buzz about 'the first scripted show on Saturdays in 10 years' and 'could they take Saturday nights?' it just didn't happen. And it's better that it didn't. It was a relief. [Thursdays have] certainly more exposure. I feel bad for everyone at How to Be a Gentleman, but that's showbiz," Hertz says. "And that's been the history of our show — to be, as they say in baseball, the fourth outfielder, the pinch hitter, the reliable guy on the bench. David Freese on the [St. Louis] Cardinals was the MVP of the National League — some guy most people have never heard of, but he won the MVP. I'd like to be the David Freese of CBS."
By that measure, Rules would have five MVP awards by now. Debuting in February 2007 as a midseason replacement, the sitcom, armed with a solid viewership, has always been there to get CBS out of a jam. It's been a midseason replacement twice since and last year — in its fifth season with its first full-season order — came to the rescue twice after $#*! My Dad Says bit the dust and Charlie Sheen's crazy antics prematurely ended Two and a Half Men's season, forcing Rules to — happily, Hertz adds — produce two more episodes to help fill the slot.
The reward it got was a Saturday time slot this year — which would've been its fourth weekday home after stints on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Star Patrick Warburton slammed CBS last month for the "sh-- time slot" and worried that it would be the show's cause of death. "I guess he was just frustrated after the treatment after all these years," Hertz says. "I was more irritated early on, but over the years, I've learned to look at the positive. I look at the 98 percent of writers and people who would love to be in our situation as opposed to 'Why don't they treat us like this or that?' I'm like, 'Hey, we're on the air.' They do like the show, but I guess it doesn't have something that CBS wants — youth or hot, sexy something. And they sort of have an order from above to find a new hit show."
Patrick Warburton slams CBS scheduling
Hertz says he believes CBS' explanation that it needs to keep certain slots open to search for the next big thing to one day replace its aging comedies like Men and How I Met Your Mother. Asked if he feels vindicated when such high-profile shows like $#*! get canned, Hertz demurs. "I don't really think of it like that," he says. "I guess I've learned that you can look at a pilot and say, 'That looks great!' or 'That's going to be a hit!' But having been in the business, I just look at it, like, 'Yeah, I can see why that might go somewhere. Let's see what they do for 22 episodes.' It's really the execution of the whole season.
"We were on the bench waiting when CBS aired a show called Worst Week a couple seasons ago after Two and a Half Men," he continues. "The ratings were mediocre the first couple of episodes and they started falling to 60 percent of Two and Half Men's audience. ... They kept it on for, like, 15 episodes. It was like, 'What are they doing? The jury's in.' So this time, I was pleased they made the move very quickly. But it was easier to take this time because we were on in the fall. Before, we weren't scheduled. We're just always there for CBS! We're the understanding wife who sits at home while they go out and carouse with other pilots and other shows."
And so are its fans. Wherever Rules goes, its audience follows, which makes the lack of a stable time slot frustrating, Hertz admits. Though time slot changes have often doomed other series, Hertz thinks Rules has survived because of its relatable premise. "It's about relationships and it's very funny," he says. "Audrey [Megyn Price] and Jeff [Warburton] are a great married couple. Patrick's very funny. I think a lot of Middle America women — that's the guy they want as opposed to the metrosexual sexy guy. [They want] a man's man who looks like he can be a firefighter or a contractor. And David Spade is just hilarious as Russell."
Check out photos from Rules of Engagement
In the past few seasons, Adhir Kalyan, Sara Rue and Wendi McLendon-Covey have also joined the show — Kalyan as a series regular after his Timmy, Russell's assistant, caught on. Rue and McLendon-Covey recur as Brenda, Audrey and Jeff's lesbian surrogate, and Liz, Audrey and Jeff's brash neighbor who Russell drunkenly marries on a cruise in the season finale. "We've got some great stuff coming up with that," Hertz says. "Russell tries to get out of the marriage, but she won't let him. Adam [Oliver Hudson] and Jennifer [Bianca Kajlich] are dealing with wedding plans, their first song, wedding guests. ... Jeff tries to deal with Brenda's sexual urges while pregnant. I think the end of the season we'll be dealing with the actual birth."
And after that? Hopefully a Season 7 — with or without a permanent home.
"I think it will depend on our Thursday ratings and it always depends on their development," Hertz says. "Do they have a lot of new shows to put on? I would hope at the least they will say, 'Let's renew Rules. It's great to have it in our back pocket.' Seldom does a network have a new slate of shows and they all work. There are always going to be spots and we're a sure thing. We're the stepchild of the schedule, but we're always there!"
Rules of Engagement's sixth season debuts Thursday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.