NBC Extends Friends to Compete With Survivor 2

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) — Hoping to limit the potential damage from CBS's Survivor: The Australian Outback, NBC will serve up extra-long episodes of Friends and a shortened, prime-time version of Saturday Night Live in the 8 to 9 p.m. slot on Thursdays.

Newly installed NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker is working with the producers of Friends to deliver what the network is calling "super-size" episodes of the hit comedy in time for the February sweeps. The four episodes will likely run about four to six minutes longer than a traditional Friends episode; with commercials, the show is expected to end at around 8:40 p.m. rather than 8:30.

For two weeks during the sweeps period, NBC will fill the remainder of the 8 p.m. hour with special, shortened editions of SNL. The segments will be live from New York and will feature the show's regular cast. NBC is still working on what will fill the rest of the 8 p.m. hour during the other two weeks of the February sweeps.

There had been speculation that NBC might stick clip shows or repeats of Friends or Will & Grace in the 8:30 p.m. slot. That spot is normally occupied by the low-rated Weber Show (formerly known as Cursed), which will go on hiatus once the sweeps and the Survivor sequel hit.

Zucker had pledged last week that NBC would not "roll over and die" in the wake of CBS's decision to schedule Survivor's Aussie series opposite Friends on Thursdays. NBC's 8:30 p.m. Thursday series has traditionally lost a sizable chunk of its Friends lead-in; the hope now is that by extending Friends, viewers will stay tuned to NBC rather than switching over for the second half of CBS's likely ratings juggernaut.

NBC is also upping the guest-star quotient on Friends next month, booking thespians Susan Sarandon and Jason Alexander. In the past, stars like Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts have sweetened the show's sweeps pot.

Survivor: The Australian Outback debuts after the Super Bowl Jan. 28. After that, it moves into its menacing Thursday slot.