“Just be blunt,” implores “Joey” exec producer Kevin Bright to a reporter beating around the bush, trying to find a way to ask him if he was disappointed by a rookie campaign that averaged 10.2 million viewers an episode — third among all sitcoms.
“Yes,” he says, sparing the scribe further awkwardness. “My disappointment is that the series hasn’t become ‘Joey’ yet. And I understand how critics feel when, at last year’s upfronts, NBC said, ‘You’re not going to miss ‘Friends,’ because we’ve got ‘Joey.’ Come on, we were all going to miss ‘Friends.’ ”
Certainly, from a ratings standpoint, “Joey” did nothing to help the Peacock not miss “Friends,” drawing less than half of the 21.4 million viewers its venerable predecessor averaged in its final season.
But looking at “Joey’s ratings another way — a 4.2/12 share in 18- to 49-year-olds beat all other rookie comedies except Fox’s “Stacked” — a defensive posture might be somewhat, well, defensible.
But Bright realizes the bar was probably too high this year, trying to take one of TV’s most popular characters (Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani), spin him out of one of TV’s most popular comedies ever, then set the sitcom in a place (Hollywood) that’s increasingly unpopular among Middle American viewers.
Of course, there was also murderous Thursday night competish from CBS’ “Survivor” and Fox’s “The OC.” Critics gave no quarter, either.
“I love Matt LeBlanc’s character, and that’s what keeps the show from being a total disaster,” says Sacramento Bee TV pundit Rick Kushman. “But this is always about Joey’s cartoonish escapades, and his cartoonish sister (Drea de Matteo) and his cartoonish agent (Jennifer Coolidge). It’s only a half-step removed from ‘According to Jim.’ ”
Bright concedes that “Joey” strayed too far from its well-received pilot — which got the irrational exuberance concerning this rookie series going in earnest last fall. After a full season of sorting out the show’s characters — a Mulligan that lower-profile comedies with top 10 ratings enjoy all the time — he believes “Joey” won’t disappoint viewers who resample in season two.
“As far as Emmys go, all of our actors and crafts people should definitely be considered,” Bright adds. “But I don’t think the show’s at a point where it’s Emmy-worthy.”