HOLLYWOOD – Matt LeBlanc is sitting in the hottest seat on TV. His spinoff “Joey” has inherited the legacy of “Friends,” as well as its time period, an NBC stronghold for a decade. But rather than being part of one of the truest ensembles in TV history, LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani is driving a star vehicle.

There are numerous reasons why the show might succeed or fail. There are some funny lines in the pilot but almost all derive from one of two things: how dumb Joey is and how buxom his sister (played by Drea de Matteo of “The Sopranos”) is. This could get old fast. However, if Joey fails, it will be LeBlanc, not the writers, who will take the fall. It’s a price of stardom.

Nevertheless, LeBlanc professes to be undaunted. “It seems like there’s more pressure, but “Friends’ was always a high-pressure environment, because from day one it was successful. So I’m kind of used to the pressure.”

The spinoff’s premise has Joey chasing his dream of stardom from New York to Hollywood. He reunites with his sister Gina and her son Michael, who, unlike his uncle, is extremely bright. In fact, he aspires to be a rocket scientist.

Beyond the change of venue and new co-stars, LeBlanc wants Joey to be the same guy on the West Coast he was in the East.

“I think a lot of times when you take a character from one show and spin it off to another show, it seems like people change the character too much and tweak it too much. My preference is to be exactly the same, just more of him. You’ll see facets of his life that you didn’t see before. On “Friends,’ he was the least evolved character. We’ll probably see more about what it was like for him growing up, the banter between him and his sister, things like that.”

What viewers won’t see in the near future is his former cast mates, according to executive producer Kevin Bright, the lone holdover from “Friends.”

“I think our first goal is to get Joey working on its own and not be dependent on bringing in stunt casting. It’s about getting the new show to stand on its own feet. Then I’m sure we’ll have some fun. David Schwimmer will be directing the sixth episode but he will not be appearing in it. We hope to see the “Friends’ in the future.”

While LeBlanc craves the status quo, de Matteo is thrilled about her change of pace from playing a hotheaded mobster’s girlfriend in an intense drama. “The difference between the shows is I guess I’ll be throwing the punches this time,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not going to be getting (beat up) every week. I was sick and tired of crying every single week, so I’m really excited just to have some fun and have a break from all that insanity, all those beatings and chokings and hair-pullings.”

Actually, de Matteo isn’t sure those days are completely over – she’s still signed on for “The Sopranos”‘ final season next year. “You know how that works,” she said. “We have a lot of dream sequences on “The Sopranos.”‘

Like some fans of the HBO mob drama, de Matteo isn’t absolutely certain her character, Adriana, is dead. “Only (“Sopranos” creator) David Chase knows the answer to that question,” she said.

It certainly seems she was whacked to keep her from cooperating with the feds, but the deadly shots were only heard, not seen. One theory holds that she was left for dead in the woods but somehow survived.

She finds that funny. “Yeah, I just kept crawling. I crawled all the way to NBC.”

Chris Matthews relishes his role as a contrarian. So it’s not surprising the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” is bucking the conventional wisdom as the 2004 election plays out.

Almost every poll indicates the presidential race will be as tight as it was in 2000. Matthews disagrees. “History shows that re-election campaigns are totally different from other campaigns. People know what a president looks like. They’ve got four years with him. They either love him or they dump him. Who do you know who’s close on Bush or Kerry? This country is pretty strong in its opinions right now about these two guys.”

The bombastic Matthews, who will spearhead MSNBC’s coverage at the two conventions, backed his opinion with lessons from history. “Ike was re-elected by 15 (percentage points), Nixon by 24, Reagan by 18. Defeats of incumbents are also pretty dramatic. Jimmy Carter was dumped by 10. George Bush was dumped by 6. George Bush Sr. went from 54 percent to 38 percent, a 16-point goodbye gift from the American people in 1992.”

For a guy who likes to pretend he knows everything, Matthews passed on predicting which way the race will turn. “I have no idea how this is going to break, but it is going to break upon a profound decision the American people are going to make sometime in this campaign. All our history shows, don’t count on it being a close one.”

(c) 2004 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Visit the Sun-Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTO on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

ARCHIVE CARICATURE on KRT Direct (from KRT Faces in the News Library, 202-383-6064):

Matt LeBlanc

AP-NY-07-13-04 1428EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.