The debuts of "Joey" and "The Apprentice" sure could have used some "Friends."
About 18.6 million people caught Thursday's 8 p.m. unveiling of "Friends" spinoff "Joey," in which Matt LeBlanc reprises his character of Joey Tribbiani, who has migrated from Manhattan to Hollywood.
Although that crowd is not a disaster, it is smaller than the audiences for any of last season's original episodes of "Friends" in the same time slot, and it's hardly the audience you'd expect for the most anticipated new series of the 2004-05 television season. Not to mention all the promo time NBC gave "Joey" during its coverage of the Summer Olympics. Which, I don't know if you've noticed, haven't turned out to be such a great new-series promotional platform after all, if the openers of "Hawaii," "Joey" and "Father of the Pride" are any indication.
"Joey" fell short of every "Friends" season-opener in its 10-year run, each of which exceeded 20 million viewers. And don't forget, "Joey's" biggest competition, CBS's "Survivor," was not even on this past Thursday; it debuts next week.
To put the "Joey" debut in context, it logged virtually the same audience as the premiere last fall of CBS's freshman sitcom "Two and a Half Men" (18.4 million viewers). Which, of course, is not a "Friends" spinoff and does not air on NBC's Must See TV Thursday night (though it does enjoy an "Everybody Loves Raymond" lead-in).
Even more troubling for NBC, though, has to be the number for Donald Trump's return to the network's prime-time lineup. A special 90-minute second-edition debut of "The Apprentice," broadcast immediately after super-sized "Joey" ended at 8:36 p.m., logged only 14.1 million viewers -- the smallest audience ever for a Thursday broadcast of the reality series. That's down 24 percent compared with the debut of the Donald's show last January.
It's true, this time he did face the first game of ABC's "Monday Night Football" -- yes, it aired on Thursday, don't get me started -- but the game scored only 16.9 million viewers, which is child's play compared with the kind of crowds CBS's "CSI" usually attracts in the time slot; "CSI" was a rerun this week.
NBC pointed out that, among the 18-to-49-year-olds advertisers chase, "Joey" scored a larger audience than any entertainment show since May, which marked the end of last season. But "Joey" was rolled out before most of the series on the other networks have debuted. NBC also noted that "Joey" was its best-rated 8 p.m. comedy premiere in 14 years in that demographic group. But don't forget this is the network's first 8 p.m. Thursday comedy debut since "Friends" moved there in its first season.