'Friend' LeBlanc going solo

— "Friends" is paring down to one friend.

Matt LeBlanc will star in a spinoff of the hit NBC comedy that will wrap up a 10-year run with the 2003-2004 season, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker announced Thursday.

"Joey" will take over the 7 p.m. Thursday time slot held by "Friends."

"You probably would never have predicted this when it began, but over the evolution of that show ('Friends') Joey has emerged as the character that America roots for and loves," Zucker told the Television Critics Assn.

Viewers want "to see what happens to him as his life goes on," Zucker said.

Joey Tribbiani, now a soap star living in New York, may move to Los Angeles, Zucker said. The rest of the cast has yet to be determined.

Left out are "Friends" co-stars Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Courteney Cox Arquette. The Emmy-nominated LeBlanc was the only one approached about a new series, Zucker said.

The castmates had negotiated $1 million-an-episode salaries for all in the ninth season. LeBlanc's pay for "Joey" was not discussed, but the network release noted his deal calls for him to star in two feature films for Warner Bros. Pictures.

"Friends" is produced by Warner Bros. Television. LeBlanc's film credits include small roles in the two "Charlie's Angels" movies, "Lost in Space" and "Ed."

Zucker was asked if continuing suspense over the relationship between Joey and Aniston's Rachel is killed because she's not part of the spinoff show. He replied by promising a strong final season for "Friends."

"Without giving anything away, I think there are still quite a few surprises in store," he said.


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