THE VERY BEST OF FRIENDS
Whenever the American television sitcom ‘Friends’ is mentioned, you can bet your bottom dollar that some pseudo-intellectuals will claim never to have seen a single episode. It’s as though it’s a badge of highbrow honor to have eschewed what is arguably the most successful comedy show ever and frankly their claims are scarcely credible. The theme tune ‘I’ll Be There For you’ by the duo the Rembrandts is immediately recognisable as soon as the opening rift begins playing, every viewer can sing along with the lyrics and each episode had the tagline ‘The one with…..’
Without a doubt, ‘Friends’ remains one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time even though its final episode aired in May 2004, running for 10 seasons and a total of 236 episodes. It is still seen on comedy channels worldwide and last year the NBC series found a new home on the streaming service HBO Max where all 10 seasons are available to binge 24/7. So don’t try and tell me you’ve never watched so much as one show!
And if further proof of its iconic status were needed, take a look at the list of other film and television stars more than happy to make guest appearances.
Tom Selleck played Richard Burke, Monica's ophthalmologist boyfriend in several episodes. Christina Applegate and Reese Witherspoon guested in separate episodes as Rachael’s sisters. For her role, Applegate won an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a comedy.
George Clooney and Noah Wyle fellow E.R. cast members were typecast as doctors. Adam Goldberg was Chandler’s crazy room-mate. Billy Crystal and Robin Williams had cameo parts in a Central Perk scene. Winona Ryder played an old college roommate of Rachael. Brad Pitt played Will Colbert, an old school chum of Ross, Monica, and Rachel. Dakota Fanning had a cameo child actor part. Gary Oldman played a famous actor working with Joey in a movie about WWI. Alec Baldwin came in as a friend of Phoebe. On several occasions Morgan Fairchild and Kathleen Turner play Chandler’s parents Nora Tyler Bing and Charles Bing/Helena Handbasket, respectively. Susan Sarandon comes on as Joey’s co-star in Days of Our Lives. Helen Hunt popped in to Central Perk.
Jeff Goldblum played a legendary director Leonard Hayes who was auditioning Joey. Danny DeVito produced a brilliant cameo, playing an aged male stripper hired for Pheobe’s bachelorette party. Paul Rudd played Phoebe’s boyfriend and later husband. Charlie Sheen played Phoebe’s long-lost sailor lover. Ellen Pompeo, Dr. Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy, made an appearance as a girl that Ross and Chandler both liked in high school. In another epic cameo, Julia Roberts plays Susie Moss, a former classmate of Chandler whom he used to tease and out for revenge. Jean Claude Van Damme stars as himself and causes a jealous rift between Rachel and Monica. Bruce Willis won an Emmy for the role as father of Ross's young girlfriend and boyfriend to Rachel. Hugh Laurie (Dr. Gregory House!) has a quick cameo in the London-based episodes for Ross and Emily’s wedding with Emily played by Helen Baxendale. In the same episodes, mogul businessman Richard Branson and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York had cameo spots whilst Tom Conti and Jennifer Saunders played Emily’s aristocratic but impoverished parent. Isabella Rossellini guest-starred as herself popping into Central Perk. Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn played Phoebe’s twin Ursula Buffay’s fiancé. Ben Stiller was Rachel’s date who irrationally screams at anyone who bothers him. David Arquette, real life husband of Courtenay Cox, played Ursula’s stalker. Jason Alexander from "Seinfeld," played a character who wanted to commit suicide. Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson had a stint as Joey's flatmate. Chrissie Hynde, founder of The Pretenders, duetted on Smelly Cat with Phoebe. ‘Simpsons’ star Hank Azaria was Phoebe's scientist boyfriend. Fellow ‘Simpsons’ voice actor Harry Shearer was also on the show, wanting to buy Ross' monkey. ‘Iron Man’ director and Marvel star Jon Favreau played Monica's boyfriend Pete Becker, a multi-millionaire businessman.
The core cast made up of actors Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer all made a fortune from the success of the show. According to Business Insider, for its first season, the six stars were reportedly each paid $22,500 per episode. In Season 2, some were making up to $40,000. In Season 3, there was a pay jump to $75,000 and for Season 4, salaries increased to $85,000. Then, in Season 5 all six were paid $100,000, $125,000 in Season 6, and $750,000 in Seasons 7 and 8. And finally, the friends went on to become the highest-paid TV actors at the time, raking in $1 million-plus per episode for the show's last two seasons, a salary ‘negotiated’ (read ‘demanded) by the cast who had the whip hand due to the show’s unprecedented popularity. But it doesn’t even end there. The real money over the years has come from reruns. According to a report by USA Today, each ‘Friends’ actor still earns an estimated $19-$20 million a year from royalties.
The show's studio, Warner Bros, is the real winner, however. The company reportedly pulls in $1 billion a year from syndication revenue, easily justifying those million-dollar, show-stopping salaries.
I am revisiting all of this in view of the much-vaulted, long-delayed by Covid, Friends reunion special called ‘The One Where They Get Back Together’ which has completed filming and will air on the 27th of this month. The sitcom's official Instagram account confirmed the news with "That's a wrap! Could we BE anymore excited!?" Spoiler alert– this is not a new episode. Rather the official trailer shows the cast getting back together on the original Friends studio, testing their trivia knowledge of the show, revisiting key sets, re-reading their lines, and joining James Corden for a sit-down interview in front of a live audience.
And for this chatty get-together Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry can all expect to see anywhere between $2.5 million to $4 million which in my book is nice work if you can get it. The phrase that comes to mind is Friends With Benefits!
And yes, I will probably be watching.