Television stalwart Patrick Warburton hits close to home on CBS’ long-running Rules of Engagement.
There are TV shows that arrive with a phalanx of publicity, marquee names attached and a production budget that’s not far off the gross domestic product of some small countries. Then there are those that embed themselves in pop culture so unobtrusively that it’s hard to recall how they ever got there in the first place. Rules of Engagement, which premiered on CBS five and a half years ago, falls firmly into the latter camp — an assertion that draws no protest from its star, Patrick Warburton. “We’ve survived without huge network support; we’ve been moved around and in many different time slots; it hasn’t been heavily promoted; and it’s always seemed like we’re on the fence,” says the 48-year-old actor, who plays alpha family man Jeff Bingham on the show. “But we have an extremely loyal fan base, so wherever we’ve ended up, they always seem to find us.”
The sitcom — which revolves around two couples, one long-married (played by Warburton and Megyn Price) and one engaged (Oliver Hudson and Bianca Kajlich), as well as their two friends (David Spade and Adhir Kalyan) — will enter its seventh season early next year (a few times during our conversation, Warburton hints it might be the last). Talking to the actor, a happy father of four who has been married for 21 years and working in film and TV for longer, you get the impression that his attitude toward Rules of Engagement is much like that of its millions of viewers: It’s enjoyable, relatable and reliable, even if it’s not the sexiest. “Being able to support my family as an actor, with a minimal education, I do feel blessed,” he says. “On the other hand, as an actor, you always want to do something different.”
Make no mistake, though, Warburton’s done different. Take, for instance, his experience at age 22 filming in South Africa with the late Oliver Reed. “He’d offer me whiskey at 10 a.m.,” he remembers. “I spent four months trying to keep up. But even though he drank everything on set, he’s the only watchable thing in those movies.” (Warburton hesitates to name the movies they were making — 1987’s Dragonard and Master of Dragonard Hill — joking, “God forbid someone should see them.”)
And then, of course, there was Seinfeld, for which Warburton is probably best remembered as Elaine’s on-again/off-again boyfriend, David Puddy. “Whenever you were on that set you had the feeling you were on hallowed ground,” recalls Warburton, who says his experience on the show was the highlight of his career. “Most half-hour TV falls into obscurity, but with Seinfeld, you knew it wouldn’t.”