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CBS schedules ''Survivor II'' opposite ''Friends''

The long running NBC sitcom may not be able to outlast the game show sequel, says Ty Burr

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Jennifer Aniston
Aniston Pitt: Warner Bros.

CBS schedules ”Survivor II” opposite ”Friends”

The network has spoken. By scheduling ”Survivor II” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m., CBS is hoping to bump NBC’s ”Friends” right off the must see island. Media folk are all atwitter over this development — it’s all anyone could talk about in Entertainment Weekly’s daily morning meeting, and not just because this development will make our life a living hell when the show’s grand finale rolls around (We put the issue to bed on Tuesday nights, you see, and while we were able to stretch things a bit to accommodate the first installment’s Wednesday night slot, two days is just impossible. But that’s our headache, not yours).

The truth is, CBS has its sights set on one gimpy horse. ”Friends” has aged to the point where its once frisky cast is nervously stalling early middle age, and the plotlines and gags now veer between the routine and the ridiculous. How many times can you make the point that Phoebe is ditzy before it’s time for us (and her) to move on? Then, too, NBC’s once monolithic Thursday night lineup is looking mighty tattered these days. The ”Seinfeld” glory days are long gone: the faltering ”Friends” is followed at 8:30 by ”The Steven Weber Show,” which even NBC decided was too awful to keep calling ”Cursed.” ”Will & Grace” (9 p.m.) still has legs, but ”Just Shoot Me” (9:30 p.m.), in this guy’s opinion, has never had the scripts that its extremely talented cast deserves. In short, the table’s got one and a half legs, and my bet is that it’s going over when ”Survivor II” kicks in on February 1.

The CBS show, this time set in the Australian Outback, will only directly compete against ”Friends” and ”Weber.” We can expect the first couple of episodes to greatly weaken the former show while completely nuking the latter. If ”Survivor II” looks like it’s going to repeat the zeitgeist effect of the first run — i.e., if the audience gets larger as the number of survivors gets smaller — then NBC is toast. Things get interesting, however, if ”Survivor II” bobbles the ball — if the contestants are boring or unlikable (in unentertaining ways, that is) or, worst of all, nice to each other. Or if the nation decides it just can’t take Jeff Probst any longer and flees from the TV room en masse. If that happens, expect ”Friends” to regain some of its viewership, but only some. The habit, I think, will be broken. No longer will we always be there for them. And about time, too. I mean, isn’t it time for Joey to get an actual job?

One final thought: The ”Survivor”/ ”Friends” showdown may not even turn out to be the main event here. Remember, also airing on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. is ”WWF Smackdown” on UPN. Just TRY tearing wrestling fans away from their addictive, high-octane soap opera to go watch a bunch of flyweight crybabies fend off the dingoes. No contest there.