If Joey is to get by, he's gonna need a little help from his Friends. Almost six months after Matt LeBlanc's NBC sitcom premiered to good reviews and great ratings, viewers are vanishing, and they're taking the critics with them. In other words, the show had better get a lot better — fast — or it'll quickly join AfterM*A*S*H in spin-off heaven.

"It's not about anything more than Joey moving to Los Angeles, living in an apartment and interacting with his sister and nephew," groans Ed Martin, editor of the TV-biz newsletter "Jack Myers Report." Adds an industry insider: "If it's not sinking, it's certainly floundering."

Although NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly notes that Joey is the season's No. 1 new comedy, he concedes, "There's work to be done." Efforts are under way to surround Chandler's former roommate with more interesting, er, pals. "The show is being opened up," Reilly says, citing Lucy Liu's recent guest stint as the producer of "Deep Powder," the prime-time soap Joey stars on. "There will also be a cast member or two added," and story lines will span multiple episodes.

Executive producer Kevin Bright says the series will refocus on "Joey being a fish out of water in L.A." An upcoming episode finds the lovable dimwit stuck in traffic en route to his first Tonight Show appearance. Backstage drama at "Deep Powder" will also come to the fore.

And if all else fails, Joey's old buddies may — all together now — be there for him. A cameo by, say, Courteney Cox or Matthew Perry "isn't out of the question," Reilly teases. But Bright wants to get Joey in fighting shape first. "I don't see how [a guest spot] would be helpful," he says, "except to get people to tune in for one week." At this point, that might not be such a bad idea.