If you can't have six friends, one's pretty good. And if you can only have one, this is a pretty good one to have.'' So says a tickled NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker, who ended a Friend-zy of speculation last week by announcing that Matt LeBlanc has agreed to star again as happy-go-lunky Joey Tribbiani in a ''Friends'' spin-off, which is being shepherded by series exec producers Kevin S. Bright, Scott Silveri, and Shana Goldberg-Meehan. When ''Joey'' assumes that familiar Thursday slot in fall 2004, suffice it to say the stakes will be slightly higher than with LeBlanc's last two spin-off attempts, 1991's ''Top of the Heap'' (from ''Married…With Children'') and 1992's ''Vinnie & Bobby'' (surprisingly, from ''Heap''). ''I'm excited and a little nervous and honored,'' says LeBlanc. ''Maybe more than a little nervous.'' Here's what else our Friend to the end -- and beyond -- revealed about his high-profile project.
When did the spin-off idea first come up?
Warner Bros. and NBC approached me about a year and a half ago. And at the time, it felt so premature -- it was something I didn't even really want to think about. ''Friends'' wasn't, in my opinion, near the end yet. But that began the courting process, if you will. And as time went by, my curiosity became more and more piqued…. I remember the first dinner I had with Peter Roth, the president of Warner Bros. Television. We sat down and he just laid it out there on the table, and I was like, Wow. I was really floored. I didn't know how to respond, but my first response was ''Well, what would we call it?'' And he said, ''We'd probably call it 'Joey.''' And just to ease the tension of the moment, I said, ''Why don't we call it 'Where the Hell Is Everybody?'''
Do you have a concrete premise?
There've been some rough ideas thrown around, but it's [in the] very, very, very infantile stages.… I would imagine it takes place in L.A., with Joey's acting career out there.
Did you mull it over with the other Friends?
As soon as I heard about it, I went to them and I told them. We have a very honest, open relationship, all of us. I wanted them to hear it from me. I didn't want there to be any weird vibes. And they've all been on board, very supportive the whole way.
Would you have preferred another season of ''Friends'' instead of a spin-off?
If ''Friends'' could continue on, it would be much less scary for me.… I try not to torture myself like that because this one really is the last one. But would I do another one if everyone was in? Yeah, I'd do another one. It's the best gig in town, man. I got a great parking spot down there. You know how long it takes to get that parking spot?
There are some risks here, including the inevitable ''Well, it's not 'Friends'…''
It shouldn't try to be ''Friends.'' If people say, ''It's no 'Friends,''' I'll say, ''Well, that's a good observation. No s--- it's no 'Friends'!''