''Coupling'' was supposed to be the next ''Friends,'' picking up the Must See Thursday torch from the departing NBC sitcom. Another comedy about six attractive urbanites who hang out in a coffee shop and talk about sex, ''Coupling'' has been a hit in England for several seasons, and NBC expected its nearly word-for-word remake to be just as successful. Instead, it may be on its way out after just three episodes. The network announced on Tuesday that it's pulling this week's episode in favor of a rerun of a more promising new comedy, Tuesday night's ''Whoopi.'' ''Coupling'' is scheduled to return next week but will be squeezed out again the following week as NBC begins the November sweeps period by airing supersized episodes of its Thursday comedy hits. After that, it's not clear when -- if ever, ''Coupling'' will return.
''Coupling'' has the enviable Thursday 9:30 slot, between ''Will & Grace'' and ''ER.'' While neither of those veteran hits is drawing the numbers it's accustomed to from past seasons, ''Coupling'' is still falling off sharply and failing to hold many ''W&G'' viewers. The show debuted to an audience of 15.3 million, a number that had fallen by last week to 10.4 million, having sent nearly 4.2 million ''W&G'' viewers scrambling for the remote. By contrast, an earlier rerun of Whoopi Goldberg's ''Whoopi'' that aired in that slot held on to 92 percent of ''W&G'''s audience. Guess they'd rather watch Whoopi wisecracking about white folks than watch white folks wisecracking about whoopee.