While CBS's sitcom "Rules of Engagement" has been a steady performer over the last few years as a midseason series, star Patrick Warburton, who plays Jeff Bingham on the show, was not shy about saying that he thinks this new season is the best yet and that the show deserves a full season of episodes for once and for all. To make the case, Warburton recently shared with our Jim Halterman his excitement over what is coming with the new group of "Rules" episodes starting tonight as well as how close the cast really is to their on-screen personas and if he'd like to step outside the comedy box and venture into drama.
Jim Halterman: Your character has a storyline in the season premiere about his inability to text. Do you text, Tweet, etc., in your real life?
Patrick Warburton: I look at technology as a runaway train and with four kids, it's impossible really to keep up. I didn't even have a true email address that I used until four and a half years ago. I felt like I was the very last one to jump on that. I don't play video games with my boys because I just get sick of getting my ass handed to me. My eldest kids both have iPhones and I'm still using the old flip phones. I keep wanting to try to catch up and hang in there but it's a struggle.
JH: On the show this year, Jeff and Audrey [played by Megyn Price] are going to focus on having a baby. What's going to happen there?
PW: Jamie Pressly is going to be on our season finale and she'll be with us next season, which I think is huge. She's such a talented actress and would be a huge addition to any cast. I love the idea that there's this really sexy surrogate in the mix. I just think it's going to add for so much fun and awkward situations. I thought the show had transitioned from last season to this season really well. I thought last season the show worked well but this season it really came together. One thing is that Adhir Kalyan came on for all shows [this season] and they really took advantage of that character Timmy and Russell [played by David Spade] together. I think the show is better now, personally.
JH: Do you think it usually takes some time for any show to find its legs?
PW: It always takes a show a little time to find its legs. I think if you have a show that's going to be a really big hit show it usually takes two seasons to find itself. That's really what it took us. We only did seven episodes our first season [due to the WGA strike] and then we've done 13 episodes every season since then since we've been mid-season. In a real TV show life, that would only be two seasons. I think the show has found itself. I think the show is what it was supposed to be. The cast has really great chemistry and the show has gotten smarter and the producers have figured out what works and what doesn't. This last season was the first season where every day we'd show up to work we have big smiles on our faces.
JH: Do the writers lift a lot of the ideas about marriage and relationships from your own lives?
PW: I have to tell you. It's just stupid how it's become that way. It's all so relatable. For me, when I came to the first reading for Tom Hertz and Doug Robinson, Tom said 'I thought about you and had you in mind when I wrote this role.' I was able to relate to the role immediately and I'm sure that had a lot to do with it.
JH: What about the other cast members?
PW: I'm not going to say and I'm trying not to be judgmental when I say that David and Russell have a lot of similarities. [Laughs.] The rest of us... Ollie [Hudson], Bianca [Kajlich]... they are going through the same things in their lives as their characters. Every week we all can relate and we've all had experiences in our own lives and so it's life imitating art and art imitating life.
JH: The show airs all over the world. Do you know if the relationships translate in different countries?
PW: That's fun to hear. I know it's in Australia and it's in Italy. We took the kids to Europe for the first time and we stayed in student housing with my sister and brother-in-law with their five children so we were there for two weeks with nine kids! We got a good deal on everything because my brother-in-law is a professor. After a day and a half of travel, changing flights, terrible turbulence and then we get to the student housing room and the bed that we had was about 2-3 inches thick and there was no air conditioning and there was a heat wave and there's no cable TV so we had maybe two television channels. It was like going back to the 70s. On one channel we saw Family Affair and the other was Pippi Longstocking but then the kids started screaming and yelling and 'Rules of Engagement' was on. They had two episodes back to back but it was all dubbed in Italian and the kids were laughing and screaming as they saw their father speaking in Italian. I'm sure the relationship stuff is relatable because it's just basic difference between the sexes and, culturally or language wise, even if things might translate a little differently, the way it effects us is going to be relatable.
JH: Do people still associate you with 'Puddy' from 'Seinfeld?'
PW: Yeah, sure. There are those people who watched 'Seinfeld' who probably have never seen anything else that I've done. It's the one thing I've done that has had the widest reach and the biggest profile than anything else. That will always be that way. I'd hazard to say I will never do anything that has as wide a reach as 'Seinfeld.'
JH: You're known primarily for comedy but any desire to venture into drama?
PW: Well, I do but those opportunities don't present themselves as often as the comedies. I love the schedule of half-hour TV. I don't travel, my days are short and then I'm home. The downside of that is because of those commitments throughout the year there have been other lost opportunities to do things and venture outside. So when I usually get the opportunity to venture outside I usually jump on it. I just did 'Flicka 2,' which I knew when I went into it that it would be a direct-to-DVD movie but I liked the story, thought it was a real sweet story and as a father of four I like to do stuff that's family. It's a very family story but it's also not comedy so I said 'Sure.' It was a really nice experience to get to do something different. Some people, for the most part, are just familiar with me from half-hour TV and that's been somewhat my lot in this career.
JH: If you weren't acting, what else would you be doing?
PW: Well, I'm qualified to do so little else. I know in school I was always somewhat intrigued by a life in marine science but that was never going to be a possibility because I didn't have the grades and I couldn't get into a worthwhile University and there are all kinds of smart people things like math and equations... I would probably have to be out there selling, like Puddy.
The fourth season of "Rules of Engagement" begins tonight on CBS at 8:30/7:30c.