By Josh Grossberg
Fans of NBC's Friends may have noticed that the Central Perk stayed open a little longer during last Thursday's season premiere. Better get used to it: The network will be adding a couple of extra minutes to the Emmy-winning sitcom throughout this season.
The move by NBC executives is part of an effort to milk every last ounce of advertising revenue they can get out of the sitcom while chipping away at the audience of competing shows, especially CBS' Survivor: Thailand.
The reason seems like a no-brainer for the Peacock. Friends scored 34 million viewers last Thursday, making it the show's most-watched season debut ever. And given all the hype touting Friends' ninth season as its final season anchoring NBC's "Must-See" TV lineup, those numbers are expected to remain huge throughout the season.
But NBC execs are shocked--shocked!--that people think the elongated episodes are a shamless ratings grab.
"Friends did run long creatively, and it will run long creatively this season," an NBC spokesperson tells the Washington Post. "Maybe they need extra time to do the story."
And if that story just happens to boost Scrub's audience (the sitcom notched 22.3 million viewers and finished as the week's seventh most-watched show), who cares? As far as the network's concerned, the more Friends, the merrier, since that extra two minutes could easily translate into four more $500,000 30-second commercial spots NBC can sell to advertisers.
This isn't the first time that Friends has gone long. Last year, the show also ran past the half-hour mark by a few extra minutes to provide a boost to its low-rated (and since deep-sixed) follow-up, The Weber Show. The extended episodes prompted TiVo owners to complain because the digital recorder stopped taping after a half-hour, lopping off the final moments, including the "kicker" segment that runs with the closing credits.
Later that season, in a sweeps programming stunt designed to stave off Survivor, NBC "super-sized" Friends, expanding the show by an extra 10 minutes to 8:40 p.m..
But NBC isn't the only network desperate enough to juice its ratings by going into overtime.
CBS did the same with last week's premiere of CSI. By running the hit crime drama one minute extra, the Eye network managed to squeeze in a few more promos for other new shows in its prime-time lineup this season, thereby taking advantage of the 30 million strong audience that tuned in.
"It's premiere week. You need to let the audience know what new shows you have available," a CBS rep tells the Post. "There's no better place to do that than in your number one show."
The longer running time caused consternation among ER fans forced to choose between that extra minute of CSI and the season premiere of NBC's medical drama, which happened to begin a minute earlier than its listed 10 p.m. start time. (NBC says its been beginning ER early for years.)
So that's why they make picture-in-picture TVs.