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'Joey' will go it alone

Friday, July 25, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- After the upcoming television season, original episodes of "Friends" won't be there for viewers on Thursday nights, but "Joey" will remain.

NBC has signed Matt LeBlanc to star in a "Friends" spinoff that may find dimwitted actor Joey Tribbiani relocating to Los Angeles. "Friends" creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane will not be involved in "Joey," but the third part of the "Friends" creative triumvirate, director Kevin Bright, will return to direct and executive produce. Two other executive producers from "Friends," Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan, will be the "Joey" show runners.

"You probably would never have predicted this as it began, but over the evolution of 'Friends,' Joey has emerged as the character America roots for and loves," said NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker. "Although we continue to love all our characters equally, Matt has emerged as the crowd favorite."

No other "Friends" cast members were approached about participating in this or any other "Friends"-inspired series. By agreeing to star in "Joey," LeBlanc also secured a deal to star in two movies made by Warner Bros., the studio that produces "Friends" and "Joey."

Zucker joked another title considered for the spinoff was "Hey, Where'd Everybody Go?" He emphasized comparisons to when "Cheers" gave birth to "Frasier," an effort to elude the spinoff curse that so often brings to mind "AfterM*A*S*H."

Of course, knowing "Joey" is in the works pretty much rules out Joey and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) getting together on "Friends" for a long-term relationship, right?

"We're not going to talk about what's going to happen on the 'Joey' show," Zucker said. "We don't want to give away what's going to happen in the final year of 'Friends.' We are aware of what the producers are planning in this final season. Without giving anything away, I think there are still quite a few surprises in store."

The season premiere of "Friends," airing Sept. 25, will be "super-sized" -- meaning an extra 5 to 10 minutes beyond the show's normal running time -- but only 18 episodes of the sitcom will be produced this year instead of the usual 24. To make up for it, NBC will allow viewers to vote on the six best classic episodes through America Online, and then re-air those.

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