Even that signature Tribbiani optimism can't help Matt LeBlanc now. NBC appears to have yanked his alter ego's comedy, Joey, from the lineup once and for all after the comedy attracted its worst audience ever (4.1 million) on March 7. (It'll be replaced by how's this for indignity? Most Outrageous Moments clip shows.) Not that the network should have expected a better performance: After a disastrous run on Thursdays earlier this season, it moved Joey to a Tuesday-night death slot against American Idol. ''It got no promotion,'' says one source close to the show. ''Who even knew it was on Tuesday?''
Perhaps the bigger question is why NBC stuck with Joey in the first place, despite a mediocre first season (11 million viewers) and an icy reception from critics. Both LeBlanc and NBC declined to comment on-the-record for this story, but sources say canning the show before the end of the second season would have proved incredibly costly with stiff penalties to be paid to Warner Bros. TV, plus $700,000 an episode to LeBlanc for two seasons worth of shows, regardless of how many were actually filmed. On top of that, NBC likely wanted to avoid a predictable chorus of I told you so's from an industry already pessimistic about spin-offs. (This is where you thank your lucky stars, Brad Garrett.)
Officially, NBC won't say the Friends' spin-off is canceled, as production on the the 22-episode order was set to end this week anyway. But the the network will likely burn off the eight unaired Joey episodes this summer a death knell if we've ever heard one. An NBC insider sums it up thusly: ''It was a good, solid comedy that delivered good, solid results in a situation where all expectations and all comparisons called for a lot more than that.''