Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Make 'Friends' with reruns next season

Friends fans should be prepared to see lots of reruns next season.

Only 17 new shows - including the one-hour finale - will be produced for the 36-week TV season starting this fall, says Jeff Zucker, NBC Entertainment president.

In a surprise announcement in December, the Friends cast announced it would return for a 10th season. A year ago the actors had said this would be their last on the air.

Why the change of mind?

Mr. Zucker says producers determined they had enough stories for a 10th season.

"Everyone associated there realized that it was too much fun to give up," he says.

`West Wing' renewed: Two more years! President Bartlet and his West Wing staff have been renewed for two seasons (through May 2005), with an option for a third.

"There's no show on television that we'd rather have, and that we think signifies exactly what NBC stands for," says Mr. Zucker.

The West Wing, starring Martin Sheen as a liberal Democratic president, has lost viewers this year. ABC wins the 9 p.m. Wednesday time period with The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

Mr. Zucker blames the audience decline on stiff ABC competition and the drama's ratings last year being "artificially high in the wake of 9-11."

"The ratings of The West Wing are not what they were a year ago, but it is still the best show on television, with the best cast on television," he says.

No `Providence': After further review, NBC won't reverse its decision to cancel Providence.

"Providence had four great years, and I'd rather make a decision like this two or three months early rather than two to three months late, when it's too late," Mr. Zucker says.

The Melina Kanakaredes drama could become a periodic movie franchise, he says.

Super comedy: NBC will counter-program ABC's Super Bowl XXXVII half-time show with a 22-minute live "Weekend Update" newscast by Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon from the Saturday Night Live studios (about 8 p.m. Sunday, Channels 5, 22).

Another `JAG': TV continues to send in the clones, with the Law & Order and CSI franchises to be joined by a JAG spinoff.

The new CBS drama will focus on naval criminal investigators working on "felony crime investigations and counterintelligence for the Navy and Marine Corps," says Les Moonves, CBS president and CEO. Maybe they'll call it CSI: JAG.

Like CSI: Miami, the spinoff will feature an entirely new cast introduced as an episode of the established original series.

Bundys back: The Bundy family from Married . . . with Children, Fox's first hit series, will reunite for a Feb. 16 special.

Casting about: CBS' February sweeps stunts include Kelsey Grammer visiting old Cheers pal Ted Danson on the Feb. 16 Becker; Sharon Gless working with former Cagney & Lacey partner Tyne Daly on the Feb. 11 Judging Amy; and Robert proposing to Amy on the Feb. 3 Everybody Loves Raymond.

Survivor: Amazon premieres with a 90-minute episode on Feb. 13 (8 p.m., Channels 12, 7), followed by a 90-minute CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Enquirering Mind: An Enquirering mind wanted to know: With Fox scoring a big ratings increase for Tiffany Thiessen's lesbian kiss on Fastlane Friday, are more homosexual encounters planned for other Fox shows?

"Bernie (Mac) and Cedric (the Entertainer) are going to make out in a crossover," joked Sandy Grushow, Fox Entertainment chairman.

Talk show guests: Live With Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9) Talk-show host Rita Rudner.

Wayne Brady Show (10 a.m., Channel 9) Naomi Judd.

The View (11 a.m. Channel 9) Guest co-host Paula Abdul; actors Jennifer O'Neill and Katey Sagal.

Caroline Rhea Show (3 p.m., Channel 19) Patty Duke.

Tonight Show (11:35 p.m., Channel 5) Actress Julianne Moore.

Late Show (11:35 p.m., Channel 12) Talk show host Regis Philbin.

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KIESEWETTER: Make 'Friends' with reruns next season