In 1993, Marta Kauffman and David Crane and started developing a new comedy television series about six 20-somethings who live in Manhattan. They pitched the series, which was called “Insomnia Cafe” at the time, to NBC as a seven-page story treatment. And, the rest, as they say, is sitcom history.
Insomnia Cafe had been re-named “Friends” and became an NBC favored project. That’s when all the agents in town started calling. They held auditions for the six leading roles in both L.A. and New York from a short list of 1,000 actors and actresses, narrowing it down to 75 per role. Then, they reduced the list further to no more than four per part. David Schwimmer was the first one cast since the part of Ross was actually written for him.
Courtney Cox was initially considered for the part of Rachel but then they decided on casting her to play Monica instead. The network ordered Kauffman and Crane to cast Matt LeBlanc as Joey. Based upon their auditions, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Matthew Perry were then cast. Then, the writing of the characters was adjusted to suit the actors that had been cast and the show was filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
Storyline, Romance, and Characters
The Friends episodes usually were depictions of the characters’ romantic and comedic adventures, as well as some pretty funny career issues. Those included Joey’s auditions for TV and film roles and Rachel trying to land a fashion industry job. Over the ten seasons, all of the characters went on numerous dates and moved in and out of some serious relationships. Ross fell in love with the lovely British lady, Emily Waltham, and Monica fell in love with Richard Burke. The one storyline that recurred the most was the Rachel and Ross on-again-off-again romance. They dated and broke up quite a few times over the ten-year run of the show. In fact, even when Ross was briefly married to Emily, a child entered their lives and it was not his and Emily’s, but his and Rachel’s.
Phoebe got married to Mike Hannigan, played by Paul Rudd, and Monica and Chandler ended up marrying each other. There were also a few other characters that were recurring blips on the Friends’ radar, including Gunther who was a very funny barista at Central Perk. Monica and Ross’ parents, who live in Long Island, moved in and out of some episodes, as well as Ross’s lesbian ex-wife and their young son. Chandler’s ex-girlfriend Janice, played by Fran Drescher, who is that actress from “The Nanny” with the terribly annoying voice, also had a recurring role, as did Ursula, Phoebe’s twin sister, played of course by Lisa Kudrow.
From Separate to Collective Salary Negotiations
For their first season on Friends, each actor or actress in the series received $22,500 per episode. During the second season, each member of the cast received a different separately negotiated salary and was paid between $20,000 and $40,000 per episode. When it came time to negotiate the third season, they joined together for collective negotiations in spite of the fact that WB preferred individual deals. Because of that, the cast received a deal that included everyone getting the lowest paid cast members salary, which meant a reduction in pay for David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston. Not such a great deal, but they definitely made up for it later.
From $75k to $1m Per Episode
In season three, they each received $75k each per episode, followed by $85k in season four, $100k for the fifth season, $125k for six, and then it jumped drastically to $750k for seasons seven and eight. Then, for seasons nine and ten, they each received $1m per episode, which was highly publicized, especially since it made Cox, Aniston, and Kudrow the highest-paid television actresses ever! A far cry from their initial $22,500 per episode, wouldn’t you say?
In addition, the cast members received syndication royalties that were scheduled to start in 2000. This was a first in the industry since normally back-end profits, which can be very lucrative, were only offered to stars who were part owners of their shows, like Cosby and Seinfeld. And, very lucrative the “Friends” cast’s royalties ended up being. To this day, even though the show has been canceled for more than ten years, all the members of the cast are doing quite well. How well? To the tune of $20 million per year just from “Friends” reruns. Had they not negotiated that amazing back-end deal, they wouldn’t be making that kind of money. Kudos to their respective agents.
A Billion Per Year in Revenues
So, how can WB afford to pay six stars $20 million a year? Simple, Friends brings in revenues of approximately one billion dollars every year to the studio. And, each cast member is receiving two percent of those revenues annually.
All of the ten seasons were successful at ranking within the top ten in the television ratings. Ultimately Friends reached the number one spot int its eighth season. On May 6, 2004, the series finale racked up a whopping 52.5 million viewers across America. That made it the number five most watched series finale in the history of TV. It also made it the most-watched television episode of that particular decade.
Friends became one of the most popular TV shows of all time. It also received nominations for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, going on to win the 2002 Outstanding Comedy Series award in 2002 for the series’ eighth season. For TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, Friends was ranked number 21. For The 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time published by Empire magazine, Friends ranked number seven. And, one particular episode in 1997 called “The One with The Prom Video” received a ranking of number 100 in TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time. Even the WGA honored the show with number 24 in their Best Written TV Series of All Time. In addition, Friends was named number 28 for TV Guide’s 60 Best TV Series of All Time.
Friends ‘Til the End
Off-screen, the Friends cast members all became the best of friends. In fact, Tom Selleck, who was often a guest star on the sitcom, said that he often felt left out when he was with them on the show. And, after the series ended, they were all still good friends. Jennifer Aniston even became Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s daughter’s godmother. In addition, when the book “Friends ‘Til the End” came out, it contained an acknowledgment from each cast member that they had all become more like family than just friends.