Like it or not, Scrubs — which is moving to the highly coveted Thursday 8:30 p.m. slot on NBC — is the heir apparent to replace Friends in 2003.

"I don't want to put the pressure on Scrubs," NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker said yesterday. "But there's no question we wouldn't have moved it to Thursday night at 8:30 if we didn't believe in it."

Friends begins its ninth — and promised final — season in September, and Peacock officials said they're not sure what they will do for their first un-Friends-ly season.

Hoping against hope, Zucker said it's not a done deal that Friends will actually go off the air after this season,

Show producers have said this season should be the last and the stars have all signed for one season only.

"I don't want to ever believe that it's absolutely going to be the end," Zucker said. "I would say, in all candor, it probably is the final season of Friends. I'd be surprised if it weren't."

But, he warned, "I wouldn't 100 percent put the nails in the coffin yet."

He added: "There's no question when Friends leaves our schedule, it'll be a gaping hole. Luckily we have so many strong components that we'll be fine."

Scrubs, he said, "already has a tremendous spotlight on it.

"The fact it's going to be Thursday, 8:30, it's going to be most watched and everybody's going to be writing how many viewers left Friends [and NBC] once Scrubs came on .

"So I don't want to put that pressure on it," he says.

Hospital comedy Scrubs has been moderately well liked by critics but ignored by Emmy voters.

Still NBC officials are touting it as the network's most highly rated first-year comedy that survived its rookie season.

But Zucker refused to speculate which show will replace Friends in 2003.