'Joey' to get 'Friends' spinoff

NEW YORK -- "Friends" is paring down to one friend.

Matt LeBlanc will star in a spinoff of the hit NBC comedy that will wrap up a 10-year run with the 2003-04 season, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker announced Thursday.

"Joey" will take over the 8 p.m. Thursday time slot held by "Friends."

"You probably would never have predicted this when it began, but over the evolution of that show ('Friends') Joey has emerged as the character that America roots for and loves," Zucker told the Television Critics Association.

Viewers want "to see what happens to him as his life goes on," Zucker said.

Joey Tribbiani, now a soap star living in New York, may move to Los Angeles, Zucker said.

The rest of the cast has yet to be determined.

Left out are "Friends" co-stars Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Courteney Cox Arquette. The Emmy-nominated LeBlanc was the only one approached about a new series, Zucker said.

The castmates had negotiated $1 million-an-episode salaries for all in the ninth season. LeBlanc's pay for "Joey" was not discussed, but the network release noted his deal calls for him to star in two feature films for Warner Bros. Pictures.

"Friends" is produced by Warner Bros. Television. LeBlanc's film credits include small roles in the two "Charlie's Angels" movies, "Lost in Space" and "Ed."

Zucker was asked if continuing suspense over the relationship between Joey and Aniston's Rachel is killed because she's not part of the spinoff. He replied by promising a strong final year for "Friends."

"Without giving anything away, I think there are still quite a few surprises in store," he said.

The sitcom's final season will include only 18 new episodes. NBC will round out the season with six episodes from past seasons, with viewers invited to vote for their favorite.

One of the creators and executive producers of "Friends," Kevin Bright, will serve as executive producer of "Joey," joined by two other "Friends" executive producers, Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan.

The remaining "Friends" creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, aren't involved but have given the spinoff their blessing, Zucker said. He compared the situation to that of "Cheers" spinoff "Frasier," another NBC sitcom that went ahead with only some of the original show's creators.