How the ''Friends'' spin-off can be a hit -- Listen up, Matt LeBlanc: Five simple rules can make the difference between must-see and must-flee

By Liane Bonin
Updated July 30, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Matt LeBlanc: Chris Haston

How the ”Friends” spin-off can be a hit

Joey Tribbiani may be a struggling actor, but his real-life doppelgänger, Matt LeBlanc, sure isn’t. He’ll be the star of a September 2004 NBC series featuring his loveably dumb ”Friends” character. Still, for every successful spin-off (”Frasier”), there are many flops (including LeBlanc’s own 1991 ”Married With Children” spin-off, ”Top of the Heap”). wishes the 36-year-old LeBlanc the best of luck in his new show — as long as he follows these five simple rules:

IT’S THE HEART, STUPID It was only when Joey moved beyond his dim, chick-magnet persona to woo Rachel that fans started paying attention. Joey’s appeal is his sweet side, which producers can save from saccharine stickiness by retaining his goofball self-absorption.

EASE UP ON THE DUMB JOKES Beware of surrounding Joey with smart, sophisticated pals who roll their eyes at everything he says — a dynamic that worked on ”Friends” but will wear thin when he’s more prominent in the mix. While Joey will always require gentle teasing to keep him levelheaded, he should be on equal footing with some of his circle so as not to appear pathetic.

DON’T GO SOLO Joey may be the center of his own universe, but he shouldn’t be the show’s only star. A true ensemble will not only take some of the pressure off none-too-bright Joey, but it’ll remind viewers that, in a sense, they’ll always have ”Friends.” When Jennifer Love Hewitt left ”Party of Five”’s Salinger brood for a new solo life in New York, her ”Time of Your Life” proved to be anything but.

DON’T CHANGE TONE ”Friends” is equal parts soap opera and sitcom, and ditching either element in favor of the other is a recipe for cancellation. When, for example, 2001’s ”X-Files” spin-off ”The Lone Gunmen” pumped up the yuks at the expense of chills, viewers were scared straight… to another channel.

FORGET GIMMICKS Avoid the impulse to freshen things up by using an improbable concept, like Joey discovering a ”Flowers for Algernon” cure for his stupidity or becoming a star on the level of Tom Cruise. People will go along for the ride initially, but will jump ship when the forced storylines inevitably run out of steam. Remember the outlandish ”Melrose Place” spin-off ”Models Inc.”? Neither do we.


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