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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Joey goes it alone
By Peter Bowes
BBC, Los Angeles

Matt LeBlanc
Matt LeBlanc will play his old Friends character Joey in his new show
Matt LeBlanc is preparing to re-launch his career with Joey, the much-anticipated spin-off show to Friends, which begins in the US on Thursday.

In the forthcoming sitcom, LeBlanc reprises his role as Joey Tribbiani, the wannabe actor who moves to Hollywood to pursue his dream.

The show, which has been promoted by the NBC network as a "comedy spin-off that continues the beloved Friends tradition", will air in the same 8pm time slot as its predecessor.

LeBlanc, however, prefers to view the project as an original venture.

"This is a whole new show," he says. "No one involved is really regarding it as a spin-off."

Serious doubts

The Emmy-nominated actor says, when the idea was first mooted, he harboured serious doubts about trying to emulate the success of Friends.

"One of my reservations was, 'Do I want to be the guy who kills the legend of Friends?'"

"Generally spin-off shows don't work," he explains.

"I felt that maybe it's time to move on and to close this chapter in my life. It had been ten long, great years - a ride. Never in a million years, eleven years ago, would I be involved in something of this enormity that Friends had become."

One of my reservations was, 'Do I want to be the guy who kills the legend of Friends?
Matt LeBlanc

LeBlanc says he was persuaded to take the plunge after he gained confidence in the production team.

"As pieces of the puzzle came together I felt safer and safer and safer. Now, we've sort of orchestrated a situation where I'm surrounded by people I trust, people I believe in, who are extremely talented. I have no further reservations about it."

New chapter

The new chapter in Joey's life sees him reunite with his highly-strung sister, Gina, played by Drea de Matteo - best known as Adriana, Christopher's fiancée on The Sopranos.

The brother and sister share their Los Angeles apartment with Michael, Gina's 20-year-old son.

"We're going to see more aspects of who the character is," says LeBlanc.

"In the past on Friends, Joey was the least involved character. You didn't see much of his family outside the group. Now it's an opportunity to see who these Tribbianis are - and they're nuts!"

Much of the success of Friends was down to the obvious chemistry between the characters. LeBlanc's new co-star admits to feeling daunted by the prospect of launching Joey.

Drea de Matteo
Sopranos star Drea de Matteo plays Joey's sister, Gina

"I've never done comedy, I've never lived in LA - it's a whole new thing for me," explains Drea de Matteo.

High expectations

"My main reservation was that I might not be able to do a good job. I might not be able to stand next to him - to be a good person to bounce off. The expectations were kind of high for me, coming from watching Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and all that stuff."

Ever since the apartment door closed on the Friends' New York apartment, there has been speculation whether the cast members would end up visiting Joey in LA.

Such a scenario would undoubtedly reinforce the feeling of a spin-off and LeBlanc has reservations.

"I don't think it'll happen in the first season because I think that this show needs to find its own legs, be its own entity and stand on its own two feet," he says.

"To really get the benefit of the cast of Friends guest-starring on the Joey show, I think what's really important is to establish with the audience a relationship with Gina and a relationship with her son, Michael," explains LeBlanc.

"In season two you could get the full benefit of those characters. It would be as fun for me to see Chandler and Gina have a story, as it would to have Joey and Chandler have a story. And that's what we're going for."

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