Friends spin-off Joey wins record 4.3m viewers for Five

LONDON - 'Joey', the sitcom that sees Matt Le Blanc reprise his dim-witted 'Friends' role, premiered on Five last night with the channel's highest ratings for a non-movie or sporting event, at a peak of 4.3m viewers.

The spin-off series features Joey as a struggling actor who leaves New York, and his 'Friends' cast members, to make it as a big star in Hollywood or 'Ollywoo' as the sign reads from his apartment window, with his hairdresser sister Gina and rocket scientist nephew.

The show averaged 4.1m or 16% viewer share over two 30-minute episodes.

It was up against BBC One drama 'Down to Earth', which pulled in 4.8m viewers, or 19%, and ITV's second outing of 1960s hospital drama 'The Royal', which managed a sizeable 8m viewers or 32% of the audience.

Channel 4's one-off documentary '100 Greatest Tearjerkers' got an average of 2m or 10% over four hours till midnight.

BBC Two's coverage of The Masters Snooker Championship was left out in the cold with 1.5m or 6%.

The BBC and ITV secure high ratings with their Sunday night dramas, usually around 8m or a 30% viewing share, although sometimes this figure exceeds 11m.

Five usually pulls in an average of just over 1m viewers. For big US imports like 'CSI: Miami' the channel can bring in up to 3.6m viewers. The 4.3m figure far exceeds any other rating for a non-movie or sports programme on Five and justifies the £500,000 per episode price tag.

From next week 'Joey' will be followed by the Charlie Sheen-fronted comedy 'Two and a Half Men' at 8.30pm, which was bought by Five as part of the £10m deal with Warner Bros Television.

'Joey' became the first new US sitcom to receive a full-season order after averaging 16.4m viewers for its initial three episodes on Thursday nights, following its September 9 debut on NBC.

In the US, 'Joey' appears to have settled into a less-than-impressive ratings performance with around 11m viewers or 8% of the total viewing share. By comparison, this is less than half the average 'Friends' ratings level over its 10 very successful seasons.

Critics had mixed reactions to 'Joey' with many saying that it lacked crucial ingredients of other hit US sitcoms.

What the critics said about 'Joey':

"It doesn't feel like a proper reincarnation as 'Frasier' did; it feels more like one sixth of 'Friends'."
- Sam Wollaston, Guardian

"As sitcom transitions go, this was a pretty easy, comfortable affair."
- Gerard O'Donovan, Daily Telegraph

"What 'Joey' lacks, thus far, is the speed and sophistication we've come to expect from American sitcoms such as 'Seinfeld' and 'Frasier'."
- Peter Paterson, Daily Mail

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