The ‘Friends’ Reunion is Back on Track at HBO Max, But Should the Cast Still Make Millions For It?
When the Friends reunion special was delayed, fans were, understandably, upset. But they understood. Now that there are plans in motion to film it, some are raising the question of whether the wealthy Friends cast should still be making so much money for the project.
The cast of ‘Friends’ set records with their salaries
Friends aired from 1994-2004 on NBC. When the series began, it was helmed by a group of up-and-coming actors. But as Friends gained popularity, the cast — consisting of (above, from left to right) David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc — earned considerable fame.
So their salaries had to match. To start off, they reportedly made in the low five figures per episode. This increased steadily over the years. For the final two seasons, the cast made $1 million per episode, which was practically unheard of in the early ’00s.
The HBO Max reunion special
More than 15 years later, and salaries in TV have changed quite a bit. But the stars of Friends still bring in impressive amounts in residuals (the money that they make for the reruns of the show that continue to air to this day). And of course, they have their own current projects that they’re working on.
Speaking of new content, a long-rumored reunion was officially announced in February 2020. Each cast member posted the above photo on their Instagram accounts, and HBO Max revealed that the special would be a pre-recorded, unscripted chat with the stars, to be available at the launch of the service in May 2020.
The ‘Friends’ special was delayed
Everything was on track. Then, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck. The reunion special was meant to film in March 2020 but, due to the restrictions put in place in California, it had to be delayed. In the meantime, the cast announced they were participating in an All In Challenge that would allow guests to donate money in order to earn the chance to be at the special’s taping.
On May 11, 2020, just a couple of weeks prior to HBO Max’s May 27 launch, it was reported that the special would likely film around the end of Summer 2020. “We do think there’s a value to having a big, raucous live audience to experience these six great friends coming back together,” WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer chairman Bob Greenblatt told Variety.
Why it would look bad for the cast to take the money now
Though HBO Max is touting this as something unique, given the live audience component and the in-person interaction of the cast, fans aren’t so sure. And with the cast set to make more than double their final per-episode salaries for the one-off appearance, some believe they should forgo their fee, given the circumstances.
The casts of former hits like Parks and Recreation doing virtual scripted reunions (which require more preparation) entirely for charity. So it doesn’t look particularly virtuous of the Friends stars to earn millions for their “very expensive unscripted hang,” as Variety TV critics Caroline Framke writes. Perhaps they’ll reconsider, given the state of the world.