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NBC eyes 'Friends' slot for 'Joey'

NEW YORK -- Joey from "Friends" may be moving across the country, but he's still going to be in familiar territory. NBC is very likely to give Matt LeBlanc's spinoff series, "Joey," the same Thursday 8 p.m. time slot that "Friends" is vacating at the end of this season, said an NBC executive yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The network's chief executive, Jeff Zucker, told NBC stations in an affiliate meeting this week that that's where he's leaning.

The spinoff features LeBlanc's character, Joey Tribbiani, moving to Hollywood to further his acting career. He moves in with a 20-year-old nephew who's a rocket scientist.

Drea de Matteo, who plays Adriana la Cerva on "The Sopranos," has signed on to play Gina, Joey's high-strung sister.

Kevin Bright, Shana Goldberg-Meehan, and Scott Silveri -- who were part of the creative team behind "Friends" -- are working on "Joey," and the new series is expected to share the old one's comic sensibility.

Up until a few months ago, a huge burden of expectations would have come with that time slot, which leads off the prime-time schedule on what is, in terms of advertising dollars, the most lucrative night on television.

But the success of "The Apprentice" for NBC on Thursdays has taken some of the pressure off. The finale to the Donald Trump boardroom game was seen by an estimated 28 million people this week, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was the third most-watched show of the season (behind the Academy Awards and the post-Super Bowl "Survivor" episode) among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic by which NBC measures its success.

NBC has signed Trump for two more editions of "The Apprentice," which will also air on Thursdays next season.

"It clearly has become our improbable replacement for `Friends,' " Zucker said. "I could never have predicted it."

A new take on the talent show

The WB is prepping a new talent show that parrots the formula of Fox's smash "American Idol," but rewards the worst singers instead of the most talented. "The WB's Superstar USA" will debut during May sweeps.

"Bachelor" guru Mike Fleiss has been shooting the show on the sly over the past four weeks, following auditions in Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Orlando, and Philadelphia. "Superstar" will begin a seven-episode run May 17 at 9 p.m. Capitalizing on the success of "Idol" reject William Hung, "Superstar" will reward the less talented singers. Even as the more gifted Clay Aikens and Ruben Studdards of the competition are eliminated, the remaining contestants believe that they're progressing toward their musical goals.

Along the way, the contestants will come to Hollywood, receive the requisite makeovers and dancing lessons and will get to perform in front of a live studio audience.

The "Superstar" panel of judges will include pop singer Vitamin C, "Wild Thing" Tone Loc, and Chris Briggs, filling the Simon Cowell role. Briggs is also one of the show's producers.

While the joke may be on the off-key crooners, the winner will ultimately receive a $100,000 talent and recording contract. "This is a genre that is ripe for parody," says WB CEO Jordan Levin. "Back when we first introduced this type of show to an American audience with `Popstars,' we found that the most memorable and relatable contestants were the people who had perhaps more courage than talent. Their passion to become superstars shone through. In this series, the viewing audience will be rewarded with a fun, funny, and entertaining send-up of the genre, but in the end, you'll be won over by our Superstar."

KNIGHT RIDDER

FX schedules `24' replays

With "24" bumped out of its regular time period this week, Fox is making sure viewers have a couple of extra chances to see the show.

As it has done in the past, the network will use its cable sibling FX for additional airings of the episode, which debuts Sunday at 9 p.m. Fox had to move "24" from its normal home this week to accommodate President Bush's televised press conference Tuesday night.

The episode will have some stiff competition on Sunday, airing opposite new episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on NBC and "Alias" on ABC, plus "The Sopranos" on HBO. But FX will rebroadcast it Monday at 11 p.m. and Tuesday at 6 p.m., three hours before the show returns to its regular spot on Fox.

KNIGHT RIDDER

Talk of the dial

10 a.m. WBIX-AM (1060) -- "Stu Taylor on Business." Guests: Stas Namin, "Russian Nights"; Fred Sears, Investors Capital.

Noon WPLM-AM (1120) -- "The Brass Ring With Gina Ghioldi." Guests: Ellie Kay, America's Family Financial Expert, author, CNBC commentator; Louis Gorchoff, Doctor Coupon. Topic: Going on a "Debt Diet" -- how to stop living paycheck to paycheck and save thousands of dollars every year.

Other radio highlights

7 a.m. WGBH-FM (89.7) -- "Classical Weekend." La Chasse du jeune Henri Overture; Praetorius's Terpsichore Dances; Kennan's 3 Pieces for Orchestra; Mozart's Concerto for 3 Pianos; Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1; Chopin's Etudes Op. 25; Holst's "The Planets."

Noon WHRB-FM (95.3) -- Metropolitan Opera live. James Levine conducts Wagner's "Siegfried," with Jane Eaglen and James Morris.

8 p.m. WCRB-FM (102.5) -- "Boston Symphony Fantasy Concert." Seiji Ozawa Conducts Dvorak, Gounod, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, and R. Strauss's "Don Quixote" with Yo-Yo Ma, cello, and Burton Fine, viola.

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