It is a truth universally acknowledged by all sitcom fans that NBC has some major issues to work out.
In the 1990's NBC was the home of "Must See TV." Their programming slate was anchored by powerhouse sitcoms like Cheers, Seinfeld, Frasier, Will & Grace, and of course, Friends.
Nowadays, shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Community are the favorites of comedy nerds and critics alike, but they fail to bring in the ratings that CBS's machine of multi-camera fare does. When Whitney debuted last fall, it caused a wave of anxiety in the hearts of many alternative comedy fans because it signaled that NBC wanted to perhaps transition away from expensive single-camera fare. The single-camera sitcom typically costs more to produce (in both time and money) and presently seems to bring in higher ratings.
So how does NBC monetarily compete with ABC and CBS (who are pulling in bigger ratings on cheaper shows), but still keep its comedy nerd fanbase?
There is a simple solution: a multi-camera sequel to Friends that features alternative comics.
Some of you might be saying, "You can't do a spin-off of Friends! Know why? Because they tried it! It was called Joey and it failed!" To which I would argue that you can do a spin-off of Friends. If you can do a spin-off of Cheers, All in the Family or Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, you can do a spin-off of anything. The issue with Joey was that you can't do a spin-off following any of the individual Friends because they were only interesting in how they interacted with one another. Besides, after 10 seasons, we as an audience already knew everything we probably wanted to know about the original Friends. We could, however, want to know more about the coffee shop where the Friends routinely hung out: Central Perk.
The fantasy Friends spin-off should take place in the same location as the original show (and be called the fandom-wooing Central Perk), but the set dressing and perspective should change so it's not about the pretty people who hang out there, but the art freaks and hipsters who are employed there.
Your six lead characters should all be young and charming, but they should be more hapless, less friendly with each other and all victims of the current economic climate. Thus, they should not be portrayed by cornfed models shipped to Los Angeles for pilot season, but by up-and-coming alternative comics. Basically, put your casting call out to the UCB, Second City, Funny or Die, IO, the PIT, the Creek and the Cave, and College Humor and then see which combination of three guys and three gals elicits the most magical chemistry.
Casting an ensemble of alt comedy stars solves a couple of sitcom issues. First, yes, you get the alt comedy quotient in. Secondly, though, audiences will stay with funny people with great chemistry longer than actors who are just attractive to look at. The reason why any great sitcom works is because of how the ensemble plays off of each other. You need different people with different voices. It creates drama between the characters and easy joke setups for the writers. Mixing comedians from different backgrounds in the alternative scene means you've got a melting pot of already honed comedic voices. Essentially, you could put six alt comics in a room without a script (or a formulaic one) and you'll get something fresh, funny and new.
Because it is a spin-off of Friends, there will be an instant mainstream audience for the show and there is a completely open door for cameos and callbacks to the original series. Have an episode when an annoying and entitled middle-aged woman named Janice harasses the team and pursues one of the guys. Have Gunther (who I would presume is still there) get drunk one episode and sob to one of the girls about how for years he pined after a gorgeous employee and patron named Rachel Green. Finally, have one or more or all of the Friends guest star on sweeps. It'd be an amazing reunion episode if while they were reminiscing about the adventures they had in the 1990's, the current cast gets jealous of their spacious apartments and romantic hook-ups.
And, oh yeah, it'd be a cheap multi-camera sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience.
Also, if you orientate the set so the coffee shop's counter is the focus, the stage picture wouldn't just cause nostalgia pangs for Friends, but would subconsciously remind viewers of another great NBC juggernaut: Cheers. Like in Cheers, the awkward theatricality that multi-camera sets usually create would be minimized by the feeling that as an audience member, you're just a patron sitting in an off-camera part of the set observing "reality" unfold.
So I humbly say to NBC, if you are still looking for another Friends, literally make another Friends. Make some timely tweaks to the tone of the humor, but keep what's eternal: the story of six very imperfect twenty-somethings who hang out in a coffee shop and involve each other in their problems.
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