The greatest mystery on Thursday night isn’t the weekly whodunit on CSI but rather, Why is Joey still on the air? Viewership for the Friends spin-off is down 42% from its disappointing freshman year — it now lures only 7.3 million viewers — and the poor performance has dragged down ratings for the rest of NBC’s once-indomitable Thursday by 29%. (Even The WB’s Smallville rates dangerously close to Joey among young-adult viewers.)
Canceling Joey would be an embarrassment to NBC — after all, this is the show that the network hoped would lift it from a post-Friends slump — but that aside, it’s cheaper for the network to keep the series on the air, believe it or not. If it axes the show, NBC will have to pay stiff penalties to Warner Bros., the studio that produces Joey, and to star Matt LeBlanc, who sees his roughly $700,000-per-episode payday no matter what.
Given that NBC is stuck with a Friend in low places for the rest of the season, what should it do to regain footing on TV’s most profitable night? Fire Donald Trump. While The Apprentice provided a boost when it arrived on Thursdays in 2004, its best days are over. Instead, reinstate that two-hour block of sitcoms that once helped the Peacock dominate the night. While we recognize the risk in moving a new show, we think shifting My Name Is Earl to 8 p.m. could restore the Must See moniker — especially if packaged with Will & Grace at 9 and Scrubs at 9:30. As for Joey? Relocate it to 8:30, where it can quietly reside until eviction day in May. By then, even the eternally optimistic Mr. Tribbiani will have recognized that it’s time to hit the road.