Spade Has Fresh 'Engagement' With CBS

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David Spade wasn't planning to do another sitcom, until a famous friend talked him into it.

The friend is fellow "Saturday Night Live" alum Adam Sandler, whose Happy Madison company is making the CBS series "Rules of Engagement," premiering Monday, Feb. 5.

Temporarily displacing Julia Louis-Dreyfus' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" -- slated to return March 12 -- the show examines modern relationships from the standpoints of several people: just-engaged Adam and Jennifer (Oliver Hudson, Bianca Kajlich); longtime spouses Jeff and Audrey (Patrick Warburton, Megyn Price); and unattached Russell (Spade), who doesn't maneuver the singles scene very gracefully.

"I was prepping to do a movie Sandler had on the docket," the laid-back Spade recalls, "and he said, 'By the way, I'm producing this new sitcom, and there's a part that would be perfect for you. We did the pilot and it's funny, but I think you should join it.' Somebody else was already doing the role, and that was the hard part. I don't like replacing someone, but I said I'd take a look."

Spade says he "didn't really take it seriously, because I wasn't really thinking about doing another sitcom, plus I was about to do this movie. I flew home and by the time I got there, [Sandler] said, 'The movie's not looking good. They want to work on it, and it's going to take a little while to fix it. Did you watch the pilot?' Well, then I took it a little more seriously because the window was open. I'm really not for or against doing a series. I just thought I'd wait and see what happened down the line, but hey, whatever presents itself."

Working again with Warburton ("Seinfeld," "The Tick") was a big lure for Spade, since they were teamed previously in the voice cast of Disney's animated "The Emperor's New Groove." Spade appreciated Warburton's "very dry delivery, and that's just one of the tricks. I remember watching the 'Just Shoot Me' pilot, and I jumped in because I thought I could fit in there. This is similar to things I had done, but I thought I could give it a new twist because I'm a little older."

Indeed, Spade admits he's basing his portrayal of Russell on a friend who's "a little too old to be in the clubs, and has his shirt unbuttoned too much. He's, like, 40 and he still wears his silk shirts untucked; he's in a rock band, and he's doing everything about 20 years too late. He tries really hard with the girls, and he's a little crass.

"The Finch thing on 'Just Shoot Me' was funny, and I loved it, but he was more prissy and metrosexual. This guy is more like a 'dude' dude, envying guys who are married and thinking, 'That's probably where I should be.' That'll come across eventually. It's just hard to make that clear right away, because I look the same. I mean, I didn't dye my hair black or anything."

Spade accepts his image, thanks also to the final season of television's "8 Simple Rules" and movies such as "Tommy Boy," "Black Sheep," "Joe Dirt" and "Dickie Roberts: Child Star."

"If you're up at Sandler's level, or Jim Carrey's, you can go pick a drama or a really different kind of comedy," Spade reasons. "There are a lot of really funny people out there, then it gets down to a specific type of 'funny,' which is what I do. I would experiment more, but the demand for it is low. People have already decided about me, so if they like what I do, I think they'll find this show funny."

Some "SNL" veterans have managed to keep their careers afloat after leaving that NBC late-night staple, but many others haven't, making Spade grateful for his situation.

"You usually get one swing at doing your own show, but for me, it's going to be someone like a Finch who goes in there and gets the laughs. Sometimes, the main guy isn't the funniest one. I don't mind doing bits and pieces, because I like to come in and score. I get hammered by critics for a lot of things, but I'd rather just do my stuff and go. This show is not about me, and I knew that going in."

Lately, though, certain tabloid stories have focused on Spade for his close friendship -- some say romance -- with Heather Locklear, following her filing for divorce from musician Richie Sambora.

"When it gets to the level of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it's so intrusive and out of control, I don't think people really get how bad that is," Spade says. "Heather's a great girl, talented and genuinely smart, so we all get why I like her. Apparently, no one seems to get why she likes me.

"We have a great time hanging out, and I feel for her because she's been through a lot. Two cars sit at the bottom of her driveway every day, and no matter what nor where, they follow her. They're really just looking for trouble, which is the problem. They're not looking to make you look great; there's no money in that.

"I think she's shown a lot of class and dignity in just trying to get through the year she's had, and still attend to her life. That's tough."

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