'Friends' have overstayed their welcome

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Does anyone care about "Friends" (7 p.m., NBC) anymore? Tonight, a shocking secret about Chandler inspires the gang to reminisce. Gee, I guess it's already time for this season's "clip show." This comedy, which just won the People's Choice Award, has been anything but choice this season. Not to quibble, but nothing has happened. Not that there's anything wrong with a show about nothing. But this year's "Friends" has been pretty laugh-free as well.

So far this season, Joey and Rachel went out and nothing happened. Ross got drunk and got dumped by his brainy girlfriend (Aisha Tyler). Chandler and Monica can't conceive. Even Phoebe's engagement seems like an afterthought. One week it's the center of attention, and then it goes unmentioned for weeks on end. At least it's not as forgotten as her triplets, who've been ignored for years at a time. And who is taking care of Ross and Rachel's baby while they yuck it up at Central Perk?

All shows have their natural life spans, and "Friends" has been stumbling around like a zombie for two years. NBC honcho (and "Coupling" champion) Jeff Zucker made a big deal out of the fact that he convinced the "Friends" gang to stay on the air for another season. Actually, the deal consisted of paying them a king's ransom for an abbreviated season, which includes tonight's clip show.

Some five years back Jerry Seinfeld was offered a significant fraction of a billion dollars to keep his show on the air. But he knew, and most viewers agreed, that "Seinfeld" had run its course. It's too bad the "Friends" crew didn't show the same discretion.

Tonight's other highlights

Late night

Dave Chappelle, Carmen Electra and The Shins appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno greets JC on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).