Warner Bros.
By
Dateline NBC
updated 5/5/2004 8:49:08 PM ET 2004-05-06T00:49:08

In TV terms, "jumping the shark" is that definitive moment when your favorite show has begun an irreversible decline. It started with Fonzie's water skiing stunt on "Happy Days." Arguably, "Friends" never took that plunge. So now that Matt LeBlanc taking "Joey" into spin-off city, is he worried he'll be going off the deep end?

Matt LeBlanc: “I loved it when Fonzie jumped the shark. I don't know. I was saying, oh, I hope he makes it. You know? I was little but I bought the whole thing. I'm a sucker.”

There's one in every group--the over-sexed, under-educated hunk. Joey Tribiani is a man of very few words, and even fewer thoughts. But he's always had a lot of heart. And this fall, Joey will be dropping everything and heading out west to jump start his acting career.  Fortunately for Matt LeBlanc, he can relate. 

LeBlanc: “I was in, you know, the construction game. That's what everybody in my neighborhood did. Everybody did some kind of trade. That's what you did.”

He graduated from high school in Newton, Mass., with a union card in one hand and a hammer in the other. And after briefly studying construction technology in college, Matt took a friend's advice and pointed his pick-up toward The Big Apple.

LeBlanc: “First I-- it's such a lame story…it was very Joey, this story. I went to New York to see about modeling and realized I was just way too short. So, you know, you need to be a big, tall guy.”

Katie Couric: “How tall are you?”

LeBlanc: “I'm like, you know, five ten and a half maybe.”

Couric: “Oh, yeah. He really means five eight.”

LeBlanc: “No, I'm five ten and a half.”

Couric: “OK, sorry. Sorry. Men and their height, it's funny, isn't it?

LeBlanc: “Well, Schwimmer and Perry are both taller than me. They're both like an inch or two taller than me so I've had this short complex for 10 years now, so it's a sensitive subject.”

But his charm and good looks more than made up for his stunted growth. In fact, they not only got him work, they got him room and board.

Couric: “Legend has it, Matt, that you seduced a couple of flight attendants and convinced them to take you in? Is this true?”

LeBlanc: “God, where did you get all this stuff? Yes."

Couric: “I went into the Matt LeBlanc archive.”

LeBlanc: “I answered an ad in the Village Voice. I hope they see this-- this will be funny. I answered an ad in the Village Voice, you know, looking for a roommate and it was these two English stewardesses that flew for Saudi Arabian, of all airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines. And they shared one bedroom and there was the other bedroom for rent. And I told them I had this three grand, right? I told them I was a trust fund kid and money wasn't-- I just absolutely bold bull-blanked my way into it.”

Starting out in commercials
He didn't need sweet-talk to get gigs. Pretty soon, everyone from Coca Cola to Fruit and Fiber came calling.

LeBlanc: “Yeah, that was a cool part of my life. I was doing commercials auditions during the day and worked in a restaurant at night. I worked in a—“

Couric: “What restaurant?”

LeBlanc: “Fat Burger. There's one in New York. And I think I single handedly put it out of business.”

Little did he know he'd be working with condiments again when he got his big break – a Heinz ketchup commercial. 

Couric: “So, could you reenact it for me today?”

LeBlanc: “It was that one-- there's a guy up on the roof. It was me and he had the bottle and put it on the edge of the roof, took the cap off and put a brick on it and ran down the stairs and took his time and everything. Slid down the railing, got a hot dog at the hot dog stand and kind of like held it behind my back and the ketchup pours so slowly and it's so thick and delicious, huh?”

Couric: “Makes me want some.”

LeBlanc: “You got to do part two, the sequel. I'm waiting for a sequel now. And it just would land on the hot dog. I wink at the girl and that was-- it was nice. Yeah, it ran for like four years. And paid my rent for four years. It was great.”

That led to his first TV series for CBS: "TV 101,” which never made it to "TV 102" and was cancelled after 18 weeks.  

Couric: “So, what was life like after that show bombed?”

LeBlanc: “A lot of free time. Did the whole struggling actor thing. Building a background for Joey, you know?”

Couric: “And tell me how the whole ‘Friends’ thing came to you?”

LeBlanc: “Got the call about an audition for a show to play this Italian actor--kind of chauvinist womanizer guy. So I said, oh, OK, I know a bunch of guys like that. I can—“

Couric: “You know a bunch of guys like that?”

LeBlanc: “Yeah, exactly. I know a bunch. I knew a couple. You know, in passing.”

Couric: “Why do you think Joey's character was so appealing to people? You know, why do you think he was so likeable? I mean, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed, Matt.”

LeBlanc: “No, he's not. I think he's an innocent. You know, I think he's really one of those-- he just really believes in what he believes in, and he's not-- he kind of wears his heart on his sleeve. And he's just a front to back, top to bottom a good guy.”

Keeping in character
"Joey,” the only "Friends" spin-off, will keep 36-year-old Matt LeBlanc in character for the foreseeable future. Good thing, since he has an ever expanding family to support. Matt and his wife Melissa McKnight were married one year ago this week. She has two children from a previous marriage, and just this past February, Matt and Melissa welcomed their first child, Marina Pearl. 

And Matt LeBlanc says the best thing about knowing he'll be back working on Stage 24 every day, is knowing where he'll be going every night. 

LeBlanc: “I really like the half hour comedy. I really do. I know people that are in movies all the time and they, you know, they don't see their families as much.  And that takes its toll over time. And I don't want to be one of those families. I want to sleep in my own bed every night. I want to, you know, help the kids with homework. And I like that. That's fun.”

Of course, if any other "Friends," feel like dropping by the "Joey" set, well that's fine by him.  

Couric: “Do you think you're going to have any guest shots from any ‘Friends’ cast members?”

LeBlanc: “I would love it. What about you? You want to come be on the show?”

Couric: “Sure.”

LeBlanc: “Not a reporter though. We'll change it up.”

Couric: “OK, good.”

LeBlanc: “A stripper maybe.”

Couric: “A stripper? Yeah. Yeah, that works for me.”

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