February's TV Picture: Some Disappointments, One Head-scratching Success

February is the time of year in the TV season when prognosticators try to forget their big promises and hide their heads from unexpected overachievers.

A very traditional-looking three-camera sitcom on CBS, "Rules of Engagement," about two couples and their wacky single friend, played by everyone's wacky single friend, David Spade, has head-scratchingly become the best-performing new sitcom of the year.

It virtually matches its "Two and a Half Men" viewer lead-out. For three weeks the show has been averaging a 4.9.

"Rules" isn't one of those new-fangled offbeat single-camera comedies, like "My Name is Earl," "The Office," or "Scrubs." Defying some new trend logic, CBS sticks with the old and tested formula. The traditional laughs are there -- and that's enough for audiences.

At the same time, who could ever believe Fox's "The O.C." would seemingly fall off the face of the earth. Even as its draws closer to its finale, viewers are seemingly disinterested, and have been voting it with mid-1.0 ratings.



The death of Mischa Barton's character was probably too much of a burden for viewers to carry around. This led to even darker plotlines -- a big change from its original intent, as a lighthearted comedy/drama mixed with teen angst.

And then there's everyone's favorite show to kick around: "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."  After hitting its cruising altitude in the mid-3.0 ratings, this NBC rookie appeared to be safe -- though an under whelming performer of the new season.  NBC said its high-income viewers made it a good performer for the network.

But in the last two weeks, there has been more turbulence, with ratings tumbling. Now, ABC's always-hopeful, "What About Brian" has bested the Aaron Sorkin drama -- even if it's by a 2.7 rating for "Brian" to a 2.6 rating for "Studio 60."

One noticeable change for "Studio 60" is that there is less focus on the comedy skits in the fictional drama -- which some critics never deemed funny enough -- and more about romance.

Surprises for sure -- unexpected romance for "Studio 60"; surprisingly darker stories for "The O.C"; and the always-expected slacker character played by David Spade  getting high ratings.

February is almost over.  Bring on the TV puzzles of March.

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