To paraphrase an old Concrete Blonde song, ”Joey, if you’re hurtin’, so is… NBC.” So how come, even though ratings for the Friends spinoff are down 42 percent from its less-than-electrifying freshman year, NBC hasn’t pulled the plug? Well, as Lynette Rice reports in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly (on newsstands Friday), ”it’s cheaper for the network to keep the series on the air.”

How so? According to Rice’s story, series star Matt LeBlanc collects his approximate $700,000 per episode paycheck ”no matter what.” Even worse, NBC would have to pay ”stiff penalties” to Joey producer Warner Bros. in the event of an early cancellation. Ouch!

Rice, however, suggests a lemons-to-lemonade approach: Create a comedy block of My Name Is Earl, Joey, Will & Grace, and Scrubs on Thursdays. Heck, as NBC proved years ago with Jesse, ”must-see” can be a pretty loose adjective on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. — as long as there’s actual laughs to be found at 8 and 9.

How would you fix NBC’s Joey problem?