NBC takes plunge with old ‘Friend’

Thesp's deal will let him develop, produce, direct

NBC plans to stay pals with “Friends” star David Schwimmer, even after the network’s signature show ends its 10-season run next year.

NBC Entertainment prexy Jeff Zucker has signed Schwimmer to an exclusive two-year series development deal. Pact is an investment in the actor’s potential behind the camera, not in front of it.

Schwimmer will form a company that will allow him to develop, produce and direct series. He’ll also direct episodes of NBC series he doesn’t produce. He’ll be given overhead and a discretionary fund and will hire an executive.

NBC has given a blind put pilot commitment to at least one half-hour project Schwimmer develops. To date, thesp-turned-helmer has directed 10 episodes of “Friends.”

Young helmers needed

“I believe that there’s a lack of a next generation of great television directors in Hollywood right now, and I believe David is someone who will pop in that regard,” Zucker said. “On the production side, we developed a project with David that didn’t go forward, but he showed that he has the determination and intellectual ability to become a serious player in the television business in the years to come. Given our longstanding relationship, he’s someone I wanted to continue being in business with.”

While negotiations to bring back “Friends” went down to the last minute and almost collapsed several times, insiders said negotiations between the Peacock and Schwimmer’s reps — Gersh Agency and Michael Gendler — went smoothly.

Starred in ‘Turnaround’

Schwimmer most recently starred in the Roger Kumble-directed play “Turnaround” in Hollywood as well as the Mike Figgis-directed pic “Hotel.”

He has steadily become a busy director. He made his feature debut on the Miramax pic “Since You’ve Been Gone” and is working with Studs Terkel to adapt “Race” for a play that Schwimmer will direct for his Lookingglass Theater Co. in Chicago in June.

Schwimmer casts his future in producing and directing, as his “Friends” co-stars contemplate life after the Warner Bros. TV laffer wraps.

While most of Schwimmer’s castmates seem headed for feature film work, NBC and Warner Bros. have been kicking around the idea of a “Friends” spinoff that would focus on Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani character (Daily Variety, Jan 21).

Zucker confirmed the talks, but said nothing has progressed beyond the idea stage yet.

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