Zucker: NBC's in driver's seat

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker says the $156 million deal his network signed with Warner Bros. last week to continue Friends
for one more season puts NBC in the driver's seat among the broadcast competition.

It' s an expensive ride (each of six Friends
cast members will earn $1 million per episode), but Zucker's probably right: The network has already renewed Frasier
and ER
for another two seasons, and Law & Order
is locked up through 2004-05. The West Wing
is renewed through next season.

"Obviously, we are going to win this season in a dominant way whether you include the Olympics or not," says Zucker. "We are going to run away with the demos race whether you include the Olympics or not, and we are going to win total viewers whether you include the Olympics or not. And I think the story as we move forward will just be tremendous stability at NBC."

But what about the "new hit comedy" story at NBC? Once Friends
leaves the scene next May, NBC will have a huge void to fill on Thursdays, and recent efforts to develop new comedies have produced very little in the way of promising new hits.

"Renewing Friends
for another season doesn't diminish in any way our need to find another comedy or two," Zucker says bluntly. "We are thrilled that Scrubs
will come out of this season as the top-rated new comedy. But we still need to find one or two more comedies, and that would have been the case with or without Friends."