NBC kicked off its portion of the Television Critics Assoc. press tour in Hollywood, Calif., on Thursday by announcing that it had struck a deal with Matt LeBlanc to star in Joey, a Friends spinoff centered around TV's most lovable dimwit. "I spoke to Matt last night, and he is over the moon," Peacock entertainment prez Jeff Zucker told reporters, "Needless to say, we are too." But before you could shout, "How you doin?", reality set in: Since Jennifer Aniston is not taking part in the show, doesn't it essentially rule out a happy ending for Joey and Rachel not to mention spoil a story that has galvanized viewers for the better part of two years? For answers to those questions as well as scoop on The West Wing, Alicia Silverstone and the Jessica Lynch TV movie read my minute-by-minute guide to all the day's happenings.
9:20 am As reporters make their way to the executive session, we're forced to walk past Access Hollywood's Tony Potts as he's being made camera-ready by the show's makeup team. I wonder how NBC was able to get Access Hollywood, a show partially owned by NBC, to cover Jeff Zucker's press conference? That's quite a coup.
9:36 am Hayes introduces Zucker, who teases that he has some "big" Friends news to share... "in a little while." What could be more important than Friends news? Ratings spin, of course.
9:39 am Zucker compares NBC's ratings this summer to last summer. Brace yourselves: They're doing much better.
9:40 am Zucker announces that Conan O'Brien will celebrate his 10th anniversary in late night with a 90-minute prime-time special on Sept. 14. I take note of this.
9:46 am Zucker finally gets to the big announcement: "We have reached an agreement with Matt LeBlanc to star in a half-hour comedy spinoff of Friends." This comes as a big shock to anyone who A) Didn't see the news plastered on the front page of USA Today this morning, B) Didn't read my entertainment news column on Monday, or C) Didn't trip over Tony Potts and his makeup posse in the hallway.
9:50 am Zucker opens the floor to questions, and I get mine in first! "Jeff, over here on your right," I alert him. "Since Jennifer Aniston won't be in the Joey spinoff, doesn't it sort of kill the suspense with the Joey-Rachel romance?" He responds: "You know, we're not going to talk about what's going to happen in the Joey show because I don't want to give away what's going to happen in the final year of Friends. And let's just say we are aware of what the producers are planning in this final season, and without giving anything away, I think that there are still quite a few surprises in store." Translation: They should have waited until midseason to announce this.
9:51 am A reporter follows up my question with a doozy: "At 8:30 pm on Thursday [this fall], you have a show that features masturbation, oral sex, discusses [a naughty sex act], and they do it in the bathroom when they get a condom. Is this appropriate television for America at 8:30 pm on a major network?" Zucker first clarifies that the show in question Coupling only airs at 8:30 pm in the Central time zone. And now for the spin: "We obviously feel that America is ready for this," he says, adding that the UK-inspired comedy will not be all about sex, baby. "At the end of the day, it's not going to survive if it doesn't become about the relationships and the characters."
9:52 am Zucker confesses that viewers may notice a change on The West Wing next season now that series creator Aaron Sorkin is gone. (Exec producer John Wells penned the season's first two episodes.) "Nobody was better at [writing] banter than Aaron Sorkin," he notes. "But where you may miss a little of that small talk in the hallway, you're going to be quite taken with how gut-wrenching and emotional it is. That's the hallmark of a John Wells show."
9:56 am Zucker confirms that the script for NBC's Saving Jessica Lynch telepic (airing in November) continues to be revised as more facts concerning "how dramatic [her] rescue" really was come to light. Also, the pic will now focus less on Lynch and more on the "brave Iraqi lawyer who saved her life."
10:25 am Debbie Allen cover your ears: "In the end [Fame] did not work," Zucker acknowledges.
10:30 am Following up on that, Zucker is asked, "If Fame was not a hit, why was it newsworthy enough for Matt Lauer to be interviewing the winner this morning [on the Today show]?" Oh, I know! Can I answer? It's the same reason Tony Potts is getting his nose powdered in the foyer! Now it all makes sense!
10:32 am Zucker corrects a reporter who accidentally refers to Good Morning, Miami as Good Morning America, leading the journalist to crack, "You'd do better with Good Morning America." The crowd erupts in laughter, but Zucker resists the temptation to join them. It's okay to giggle, buddy. It's in the rule book.
2:10 pm NBC injects a dose of reality into the day with a session on its upcoming dating game Average Joe (think Mr. Personality without the masks).
2:11 pm Host Kathy Griffin sets the right tone when she declares, "I love reality television, and I'm really tired of art!"
2:12 pm "They actually weren't hideous enough for me," Griffin says of the homely contestants. "I wanted to see maybe a eunuch, maybe somebody without an eye, someone with uncontrollable diarrhea... "
2:15 pm The show's above-average looking star Melana Scantlin an alumna of NBC's Meet My Folks (this one's a catch!) reveals that, in the end, she did pick one of the men. How charitable of her.
2:20 pm The panel expands to include three of the show's leading men: Brad, Jay and Dennis. Melana, meanwhile, is whisked off stage. (Average Joe rules state that she can't face the guys again until after the show airs.)
2:26 pm Brad officially establishes himself as "the Annoying One" after his third consecutive joke bombs. Dude, Kathy Griffin's in the house. Show some freakin' respect.
2:27 pm And now for the question of the day: "Brad, it says you're a talent manager. So, is there going to be a day that somebody that you're looking to sign or working with is going to walk in and say, 'Oh, I saw you on Average Joe.' What would you say to them if they said that to you?" Here's what I have to say about that question: Why me, God? Was it because I stopped going to church? Was it? Because I'll start going again.
3:15 pm During the session for Miss Match a very promising dramedy starring the still-adorable Alicia Silverstone as a divorce lawyer who moonlights as a matchmaker the actress appears clueless about TV dad Ryan O'Neal's previous work. "I still haven't seen him in anything," she giggles. Responds O'Neal: "I believe that." Wise decision.
4:33 pm A reporter refers to Baranski's former Cybill alter ego (drunk socialite Maryann) as a "history-making sitcom character." Huh? Even Baranski seems taken aback by the compliment, responding, "Well, thank you for those lovely remarks."
4:37 pm Larroquette refers to his experience toward the end of NBC's The John Larroquette Show as "torturous."
4:50 pm Speaking of grueling experiences, Baranski is asked to reflect on her Cybill days. Cybill Shepherd, cover your ears: "It makes your life easier if you're on a happy set and everyone's working in a relaxed and professional way but it doesn't always happen," she says, diplomatically. "And the bottom line is you're a professional. You show up. You do your job. I got through those years... and now it pays for my daughter's college tuition."
4:52 pm The session ends, and with that, so does my TCA adventure. See you all next year. In the meantime, I'm going to see about that church thing.For previous press tour recaps, click here