NEW YORK – If Drea De Matteo (search) is going to NBC, are Adriana's days numbered?
That's the question "Sopranos" (search) fans are asking now that the sexy actress has won a starring role on NBC's biggest new sitcom -- the "Friends" (search) spinoff being developed around Joey Tribbiani, Matt LeBlanc's (search) character on the long-running Thursday-night hit.
NBC confirmed yesterday that De Matteo, 30, who plays Adriana La Cerva on "The Sopranos," will play Joey's sister, Gina, on the new prime-time comedy series "Joey."
It's the first time that a regular cast member of "The Sopranos" (search) has been recruited for another TV show while still appearing on the HBO mob hit. The last cast member to make the leap to network prime time was Joe Pantoliano, (search) whose character, Ralph Cifaretto, had already been killed before the actor was cast in the CBS drama series "The Handler."
"Joey" is arguably the most important new show being developed by NBC for next fall. The network is depending on the sitcom to help offset the loss of two of its biggest comedies at the end of this season, "Friends" and "Frasier."
Joining the cast of such an important show in a key role represents a huge commitment for De Matteo, since "Joey" will be filmed in Los Angeles beginning this summer.
The news that the actress is moving to NBC prime time comes at a crucial time for the character she plays on "The Sopranos."
Adriana, who is engaged to mob lieutenant Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli (search)), has been cooperating (reluctantly) with the FBI since last season. A preview of this Sunday's episode had a federal agent informing Adriana that the FBI wants to plant listening devices in her nightclub, particularly in the back office where mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) meets with other gangsters.
Other aspects of the preview seemed to raise the possibility that Adriana could be in danger of being discovered - with possibly fatal consequences for her.
HBO would not comment on Adriana's status on "The Sopranos," citing its long-standing policy against revealing future plot developments.
Sources insist that De Matteo's work on "Joey" will not conflict with "The Sopranos," which is filmed at various locations in New York and New Jersey. "She is contracted for a sixth season" of "The Sopranos," an HBO source said.
The series is now in its fifth season, with production on the final 10 episodes for the show's sixth and final season scheduled to commence in early 2005.