Stephen M. Silverman
May 18, 2004 08:10 AM

In a rare gamble that seems to have paid off, NBC on Monday offered an advance screening of the entire pilot episode of Joey to advertisers and TV journalists as the network introduced its fall schedule.

And the feedback? The crowd inside New York’s Radio City Music Hall laughed plenty of times, reports the Associated Press, while several other sources chimed in with their positive reactions.

Joey, of course, stars Matt LeBlanc reprising his Friends role as the big-hearted, if empty headed aspiring actor Joey Tribbiani.

Clearly, the network believes in Joey. The only time in recent memory that entire pilots were previewed were for The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls.

As an extra plum, NBC is giving the show the same prime-time slot formerly occupied by its predecessor, which recently wrapped up its 10-year Thursday-night run before some 52 million viewers. It will be followed by ratings stalwart Will & Grace.

New York Daily News TV critic David Bianculli, in particular, applauded what he considers the new series’ strong supporting cast, which includes The Sopranos costar Drea de Matteo, who plays Joey’s tough-acting and talking sister. (Sample dialogue from Joey to his sis: “Chandler and I are not a gay couple!”)

Bianculli suggests that de Matteo (who reportedly will still continue her Sopranos role on the HBO series) is so funny on Joey that she raises the quality bar on the entire enterprise.

Not that everyone is offering an encouraging word about the Friends spinoff (which is set in L.A., so Joey can pursue his career).

Washington Post critic Lisa de Moraes carps in Tuesday’s editions that the show just seems like Friends on tour with most of the cast on vacation elsewhere, while the addition of a youngster to play Joey’s nephew only emphasizes that Joey’s old pals were just that – getting old.

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