LeBlanc to star in spin-off from sitcom 'Friends'

Joey Tribiani, the womanising out of work actor from the hit American sitcom Friends, is preparing to star in a television series all of his own.

Executives from the American network NBC, which broadcasts Friends in the United States, are in the final stages of negotiations with the actor Matt LeBlanc, according to the US trade newspaper The Hollywood Reporter.

The latest series of Friends is coming to the end of its run and LeBlanc's fellow stars, Courteney Cox Arquette, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry, and Lisa Kudrow, who are each said to command £700,000 per episode, have indicated that they do not wish to film another series.

But the show is the highest-rated sitcom in the United States and television companies are eager to cash in on its phenomenal and long-running success. The final show will be aired in America next May - and advertisers have been told that a 30-second slot within the two-hour special will cost more than £1m.

There is a long history on both sides of the Atlantic of successful sitcoms spawning new shows. Cheers, set around a bar room in Boston, filmed its last episode in 1993. It was followed by Frasier, a new series based on the exploits of one of its favourite characters, the psychotherapist Frasier Crane. The spin-off was a runaway success, winning large audiences and a collection of Emmys. But another Cheers spin-off, based on the character Nick Tortelli and played by Dan Hedaya, did not attract the audiences executives had sought.

Another great success was Benson, a spin-off series from the spoof show Soap, which ran 25 years ago.

Friends has won 44 Emmys in its 10-year history. Last week, LeBlanc was nominated for one of the awards in the category for lead actor in a comedy, though he will face stiff competition from Martin Sheen (The West Wing), Kiefer Sutherland (24) and James Gandolfini (The Sopranos).

Fellow Friends star Matthew Perry has spoken in the past of his initial inkling that the sitcom would be a success. But the incredible reception the show received all over the world amazed him and his co-stars.

"We were six actors struggling to get work," said Perry. "We had done other shows that had failed, but I knew something interesting was going on because it was so good on the page and the characters were wonderful.

"I was the one who was saying, 'Get ready everybody, your lives are going to change here' - not knowing at all how, or what would happen."

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