Monday, January 26, 2004

The long goodbye

NBC’s “Friends” certainly will be missed, but the hoopla surrounding the show’s last hours is getting a wee bit dramatic.

The comedy wrapped its final episode in front of an invitation-only audience late last week on a set veiled in secrecy, according to Associated Press.

Friday night’s taping of the hourlong finale, scheduled to air in May, concluded shortly before midnight with an extended curtain call for the cast members, a show representative who declined to be quoted by name told AP.

Stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer were joined for the taping on Stage 24 by an audience of about 200 people. A party was planned afterward, at another secret location.

At this rate, Vice President Richard B. Cheney will have no more secret locations from which to choose.

The mood this week has been “deeply emotional, very sad,” Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, told AP. “But beyond the sadness, I think there is an enormous sense of accomplishment.”

Friday’s studio audience was limited to “a very special, invited guest list,” Mr. Roth said. Measures were taken to prevent plot leaks, according to the show’s producers.

If Washington can leak, however, so can Hollywood. At least one tabloid claimed it had the “Friends” scoop, but the information won’t be repeated here.

The top-rated comedy for the past six seasons, “Friends” is going out in style. Thirty-second ads for the show reportedly are fetching $2 million, close to Super Bowl territory, according to Horizon Media, an ad-buying firm.


The Donald has blinked.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump has backed down in the face of a challenge by a group of off-key singers and wannabe stars, Reuters News Agency reports.

NBC, working quickly to protect one of its newest hits, said late last week it would move Mr. Trump’s reality series, “The Apprentice,” next week to Thursday nights right after the hit shows “Friends” and “Will & Grace” to protect it from the Wednesday night juggernaut “American Idol.”

“Apprentice,” in which a group of young executives compete for a job in Mr. Trump’s empire, has been a ratings winner for NBC since its debut earlier this month. Wednesday night’s episode, airing at 8 p.m., gave NBC its largest audience for regular programming in that slot in the coveted 18-to-49 age demographic since March 2001.

Still, it was no match for Fox’s “Idol,” which drew an audience that was about three times larger in that same 18-to-49 demographic.

Maybe Mr. Trump should add some karaoke contests to his tycoon apprentice program.

Starting this week, “The Apprentice” will run Thursdays at 9 p.m., while “Will & Grace” will remain on Thursdays but move back to the 8:30 p.m. time slot after “Friends.”

Walters bows out

Maybe having Howard Stern join ABC’s prime-time interview team proved too much for veteran broadcaster Barbara Walters.

The groundbreaking television newswoman will step down as co-host and chief correspondent of ABC’s “20/20” newsmagazine in September, Reuters News Agency reports. The move ends her 25-year association with the program, the network said Sunday.

The network, which is owned by Walt Disney Co., said Miss Walters will remain an active member of its news division and “substantially increase” the number of prime-time news specials she does.

Miss Walters also will continue to oversee specials produced by her own production company and remain executive producer and co-host of “The View” daytime talk show.

She joined ABC News in 1976, becoming the first woman to co-host a network news show, and later joined anchor Hugh Downs as co-host of 20/20 in 1984.

Miss Walters still had more than a year remaining on her “20/20” contract and is negotiating a new, long-term agreement to stay with ABC News, a network spokeswoman said.

School’s out?

It might be a permanent summer vacation for David E. Kelley’s “Boston Public.”

Fox’s high school drama has stopped production following its 15th episode, leaving the show’s fate up in the air, according to E! Online.

The show originally got a 13-episode order for the 2003-04 season, which the network later extended to 15. That’s still less than the 22 usually shot for a full season, and it leaves the show’s episode total at 81.

That number falls short of the 100 mark typically required for syndication success.

E! Online says Mr. Kelley’s representative offered no comment. However, the network maintains that the program could still be a contender for renewal.

But the show’s future looks iffy: Averaging a mere 4.8 million viewers this season, “Boston Public” has been yanked from February sweeps and will be replaced March 12 by the midseason entry “Wonderfalls.”

Variety suggested that should the drama be shelved permanently, Mr. Kelley may be given a chance to wrap up things with a 16th episode.

The only other show from Mr. Kelley’s fertile imagination still on the air is ABC’s “The Practice,” enjoying a renaissance of sorts this season, thanks in part to new cast member James Spader.

Mr. Kelley is responsible for a string of hits, from “Chicago Hope” to “Ally McBeal.”

He suffered a body blow this year when his new CBS drama, “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire,” got yanked in October.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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