C4 paid for six `Friends' but may end up with just four

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The Independent Online
FRIENDS, THE hugely popular television comedy, could soon be a little less friendly. Two of the six principal cast members, Ross and Phoebe, played by David Schwimmer and Lisa Kudrow, are planning to leave the series, The Independent has learnt.

The departure of two key members of the cast would be embarrassing news for Channel 4, which has just spent a record pounds 125m on buying up exclusiveBritish rights to the next series, part of an American import package.

Without the full complement of New York chums, the chemistry essential to the series' success could be less effective. The two have been in the cast since the series began.

There was surprise in broadcasting circles that Sky, which previously bought the rights to the series, was beaten by Channel 4 in last week's bidding. But sources close to Elisabeth Murdoch, managing director of Sky Networks, say her interest waned when she learnt from insiders at Warner Brothers, which makes the television series in America, that Schwimmer and Kudrow were leaving.

A Channel 4 spokesman said yesterday: "Periodically people do leave the series because of disputes over pay or whatever. So we are not saying this isn't true."

Warner Brothers in America described it as "a rumour".