NBC sitcoms Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me are joining Friends in the 40-minute club during the February sweep. NBC officials didn't rule out producing 40-minute episodes in the future if the strategy works in February.
The move is part of NBC's sweep scheduling strategy to counter CBS's decision to air Survivor on Thursday's at 8 p.m. in a direct challenge to the Peacock web's veteran lead-off program, Friends.
Earlier this month, NBC struck an agreement to produce four 40-minute episodes of the popular Friends during February. The question then became, how to fill the 20-minute hole leading out of the oversized Friends episodes for four weeks.
Newly named NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker called on colleague Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live to get ready for prime time. Michaels and the SNL team are producing two twenty-minute skit shows as lead-outs to the first two extended Friends episodes.
The strategy for the remaining two Thursdays in February fell into place over the weekend and was finalized Monday. For the third Thursday of the sweep, the 20-minute hole will be filled by an outakes show featuring zany moments on the Friends set that will have wrap around interviews of the cast conducted by Conan O'Brien.
Then on the final Thursday of the sweep, the 40 Minute Club kicks in from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Friends, Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me in that order.
"The real issue here is we've gone out and we've tried to find clever ways to retain the biggest audience we can. It's all about taking chances and it's a big risk that we are taking, but we feel like we're trying to be competitive." - Steve McClellan
It was CBS's decision to challenge Friends with Survivor that got NBC to thinking about extended espisodes. Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Television likened NBC's manuever to the next move in a chess match. But, "no, we're not going to counter," he said. "It's interesting though. At the end of February they [almost] run out of original Friends. They'll have two for the next two months. So I don't want to be judged by happens in February. Survivor is on until May."
Extending shows past the 60- and 30-minute mark isn't new. WTBS starts its prime time shows at 5 mintues past the hour.
NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker said the Friend's outtakes show will air never-before-seen footage, some of it going back seven years to the show's first season on the air. O'Brien will quiz the cast on some of their most memorable moments on the show, he said.