Spinoff Stories: Friends (Article VI)

Written Questioning If Dead is Better by Bridger Cunningham (former TVRG writer)
America's six sweethearts of young adults swept Must-See-TV with critical acclaim from the mid-90's through the mid-2000's.  After the series ended during its 10th season, NBC sought to continue the franchise in a spinoff based on Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc).  Fate did not deal this series powerful cards, as Joey sank along with the NBC barge, which hit a Nielsen iceberg and crashed into 4th Place. 

The revival trend of the 2010's always capitalized on the words "Friends" to discuss revivals.  However, the six principles have all remained gainfully employed since.  The only chance at a revival may be an appearance on a talk show for one episode.  Beyond that, Friends is steadily available streaming and in syndication.

The Original Hit Machine
Friends (1994-2004) 

Friends arrived on NBC's Must-See-TV on Thursdays in a opportune time, as its compatibility with Seinfeld made two welcome hangout sitcoms in one evening.  Blessed with a stellar, attractive and charismatic cast, America fell in love with Friends almost instantaneously, finishing its debut season in 8th Place and thereafter remaining a top-8 player for its entire run, often being crowned the 1st Place show in television.  Featuring the talents of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, Friend's nuclear ensemble never deviated in its 10-year run.  In its 10th season, the cast and crew collectively agreed to end the series while it was still firing on all cylinders. 

The Spinoff 
Joey (2004-06) 

Matt LeBlanc's naive Joey Tribbiani was often outshadowed among the ensemble, along with Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe).  The focus of the original series always showcased the romantic drama of Ross (Schwimmer) and Rachel (Anniston), as well as the union of Monica (Cox) and Chandler (Perry).  After the series ended, a continuation spinoff showcasing Joey seemed to be an ideal opportunity to flesh out the character in depth.  Switching the locale from New York to LA, Joey lands a covered role as Dr. Drake Ramoray on his pined soap Days of Our Lives.  Beyond that, he was the same womanizing Joey we knew in New York. 

Rounding out the ensemble were Sopranos alum Drea de Matteo as his older sister Gina.  Little contrast was played between Gina and Joey, as both held voracious sexual appetites.  Same goes for his agent Roberta "Bobbie" Morganstern, played with luscious sex appeal by Jennifer Coolidge (Of American Pie and 2 Broke Girls fame).  The cast remained two-dimensional sitcom stereotypes, and the premise fell flat by the second season.  Initially ranked at a modest 32nd Place with a 4.2 18-49 demographic rating, the second season experienced a disastrous drop to 86th Place having lost a third of its audience with a 2.8.  NBC heavily and wisely promoted the continuation season, even launching it in Friends' old timeslot at Thursdays at 8:00.  By December 2005, however, Joey was getting trounced in the ratings and NBC placed the series on hiatus.  They revived the series on Tuesdays at 8:00 on March 7, 2006, and the declines continued.  The network axed the series that May, as NBC experienced dire conditions in a record-low 4th Place. 


LeBlanc and actor Robert Costanzo were the only regulars to appear as Costanzo guest-starred as Joey Sr.  The other five friends and supporting cast members never bothered with this spinoff as 10 years was enough for them. 

Why This Spinoff Failed 

Along with scathing reviews from critics, Joey lost steam as the sitcom lost the feel of the parent series.  The mid-2000's also became a bleak dead-zone for sitcoms as viewers were still involved with the reality TV craze, as well as innovative programming on ABC such as Desperate Housewives and Lost.  Had the series premiered 4 years earlier, its shelf life may have endured longer.  Joey's problem was not a fallacy of LeBlanc's acting skills, but rather his character remained in the same stratosphere for so long with little changes to his existence.  

Joey's failure is similar in caliber to the failure of 1979's Archie Bunker's Place on CBS, which the character was already showcased for 9 years and began to lose their touch.  Unlike Frasier, which successfully expanded on Frasier Crane's personal life to give him more dimension, Joey simply continued the same punchlines and reactions displayed since 1994.  In addition, longstanding flagship Will and Grace bowed out in 2006, and NBC sought to blade the field clean and start over as Must-See-TV was crumbling into ruins. 

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