Will the fans be there for 'Friends' when it switches time slots?

By Bruce Fretts
Updated September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

IT’S OFFICIAL: Everybody loves Friends. ”I was riding my bike in Marina Del Rey, and I went into the smallest bar I’ve ever seen to get a cranberry juice,” reports cast member Courteney Cox. ”There were 65- or 70-year-old people in there, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. And every single person in the bar started raving about the show. It really freaked me out.”

Propelled by its top-of-the-pops theme song (”It’s peppy, huh?” observes costar Lisa Kudrow), Friends won the hearts of more viewers than any other series this summer. But the show may fall from its perch when NBC moves it from its snug slot between Seinfeld and ER to the leadoff spot on Thursdays.

”We have to make our peace with the fact that we’re not going to be No. 1 at 8 o’clock,” says executive producer David Crane. ”There just aren’t as many people watching.” Cohort Marta Kauffman chimes in, ”It didn’t make us happy, but we understand NBC’s thinking.”

That thinking is this: Rather than bunching up three of TV’s hugest shows, spread them out and wedge the fledgling sitcoms The Single Guy and Caroline in the City in between them. Explains Friend Matt LeBlanc, ”The network wants to take full advantage of us and use us to help launch new shows, which is kind of an honor, I guess.”

Isn’t 8 p.m. a bit early for a show that once featured a hump-happy monkey, Marcel? ”I watched a rerun the other night, and some of our stuff is pretty risqué,” worries Cox. But Kauffman says, ”We’ve been assured that we don’t have to make a change, so we’re not gonna!”

Here’s what you can look forward to seeing this season: Cox’s Monica will lose her chef’s job (”the ultimate control freak dealing with the ultimate lack of control,” says Crane) but may gain a boyfriend by season’s end; David Schwimmer’s Ross and his new girlfriend (The Joy Luck Club‘s Lauren Tom) make Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) jealous; and we will finally see where Kudrow’s Phoebe lives with her grandmother (a role not yet cast). Also watch for a possible November-sweeps stunt, with Ross visiting The Single Guy (Schwimmer and Single star Jonathan Silverman are childhood pals).

You may feel as if you’re seeing Friends on even more sitcoms, with the gaggle of new shows trying to copy its formula. ”The attempts to clone this show are just foolish,” says Kauffman. ”But last year people called us a clone of Seinfeld and Ellen.” Still, Cox is concerned: ”I just hope people don’t say, ‘All right already with the Friends! Everybody’s Friends!”’ But everybody knows you can never have enough Friends.

New Shows

Charlie Grace ABC, 8-9 p.m. (starts Sept. 14)
CONCEPT: The Long Rockford Goodbye — Mark Harmon as a hardboiled but human L.A. gumshoe.
THE SCOOP: Combining tough-guy voice-over narration copped from Raymond Chandler with a genial-screwup persona lifted from James Garner, Charlie is a gracelessly derivative detective show. ”It does travel in a circle,” admits Harmon, echoing an assertion by creator-executive producer Robert Singer, who also worked with the actor on 1991-93’s Reasonable Doubts. Asked about the time slot, which doomed the critically beloved My So-Called Life, Singer says, ”I think Friends is a real problem for us.” Elementary, my dear Singer. BOTTOM LINE: Private eyesore.