I hope they don’t call it “After Friends.”

NBC has sitcom plans for ‘Friends’ pal Joey
LOS ANGELES ó Joey Tribbiani is headed for California ó and life without Friends.
NBC today plans to announce a deal with Matt LeBlanc to star in Joey, a Friends spinoff featuring one of the more beloved characters from TV’s top-rated comedy.
The series, which won’t include any other Friends cast members, will premiere in September 2004, almost certainly in the newly vacated Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT time slot, after Friends ends its 10th and final season in May.
No script has been written, but the show is believed to be based on a scenario in which Joey moves to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career, probably to be joined by a love interest and an ensemble cast.
Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane aren’t involved in the project √≥ they said last year that they had no interest in a spinoff √≥ but partner and Friends veteran Kevin S. Bright will executive-produce the series along with Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan. They’ve written recent story lines about soap actor Joey, who has become a more prominent character in the past two seasons.
LeBlanc will take a significant pay cut from the roughly $1 million per episode that he’ll make for the final season of Friends. And unlike with other star-driven series, he won’t be a producer. But he’ll have input into casting and earn a greater share of the show’s profits if it’s successful.
A Joey spinoff has been in the discussion stages for nearly two years but has been put off each time Friends has been extended for an additional season.
Yet Friends producers, Warner Bros. Television and NBC insist this will be the final season, with only 18 episodes produced instead of the customary 22.
All along they saw LeBlanc ó who won his second Emmy nomination last week ó as the likeliest spinoff character.
Top candidate Jennifer Aniston expressed zero interest in continuing the role of Rachel, and an idea to pair Joey with Matthew Perry’s Chandler Bing in a buddy comedy was rejected as too limiting.
Either way, it’s clear that NBC needs some help: The network hasn’t found a new comedy hit since Will & Grace premiered in 1998, and both Friends and the fading Frasier will be history in May. With CBS winning Thursdays last season, NBC views Joey as an insurance policy to protect its most important night.
No one expects Joey to capture as large an audience as Friends, which averaged nearly 22 million viewers last season. And the history of successful comedy spinoffs is limited: For every Frasier (spawned from Cheers), there are several After M*A*S*Hes that quickly faded. Joey will be expensive by new-sitcom standards, costing NBC nearly $2 million an episode, but still far short of the $10 million that the network is shelling out for the final year of Friends.