Audiences flock to CBS' 'Rules'

As the broadcast nets put the finishing touches on comedy pilots, there’s more evidence that viewers aren’t necessarily looking for edgy when it comes to sitcoms.

For a third straight week, CBS comedy “Rules of Engagement” retained at least 90% of its lead-in from television’s No. 1 half-hour comedy, “Two and a Half Men” — making it the leading contender to finish as the season’s top-rated laffer in key demos.

Critics certainly have been kinder to other comedies this season — single-camera entries “30 Rock” on NBC and “Knights of Prosperity” on ABC, for example — but auds are sticking to “Rules.” The traditional comedy sendup, featuring one married and one engaged couple and their wacky single pal, looks to be a good fit with “Two and a Half Men,” another half-hour with familiar comedy rhythms.

In preliminary Nielsen nationals on Monday, “Rules” averaged a 4.9 rating/11 share in adults 18-49 and 13.9 million viewers overall — retaining 92% of its demo lead-in from “Men” (5.3/12, 16.6 million viewers overall).

Through three episodes, “Rules” has averaged a 94% retention of its “Men” lead-in, logging the time period’s three highest scores of the season for CBS. And “Men” seems to be feeding off its compatible lead-out, hitting its two highest ratings of the season over the past three weeks.

By comparison, “The New Adventures of Old Christine” retained an average of 89% of its “Men” lead-in with its first three originals last year.

“Christine” returns to the CBS comedy lineup with fresh episodes March 12 at a new 8:30 time. “Rules” will remain at 9:30 through March, with vet “King of Queens” assuming the throne on April 9 with its final batch of episodes leading to its series finale.

Also of note Monday, NBC rookie drama “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” hit a low for a second straight week (prelim 2.6/7 in 18-49, 6.4 million) and got crushed by “CSI: Miami” (prelim 5.9/15 in 18-49, 19.1 million), which capped a winning night for CBS.

New drama “The Black Donnellys” takes over for “Studio 60″ in the 10 o’clock slot for NBC onMonday. After such a weak finish, it’s unclear if “Studio” will return to the Peacock sked before the season ends in May.

Due to the Presidents Day holiday, the primetime ratings report and charts for the week of Feb. 12-18 will appear in Thursday’s edition.

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