Television ads for last episode of 'Friends' cost $2m

It is the season for sitcom adieus on American network television, with a large portion of the nation's populace preparing to settle down for a two-hour final episode of Friends this evening, after which they will have one week to get ready to bid farewell to another popular sitcom, Frasier .

For the peacock network, as NBC is sometimes called, it is also dollars season. Tonight's finale of Friends is expected to draw an audience of about 50 million viewers, which means exceptionally high rates for companies placing advertisements in the breaks.

Reportedly, NBC is asking $2m (£1.1m) for every 30-second slot tonight, which is almost as much as advertising costs during the annual Super Bowl football game, which traditionally commands the highest rates of the year; this year's game, on CBS, commanded $2.3m (£1.3m) a slot.

Such hoopla for the ending of a television show has not been seen since quirky Seinfeld folded its tent six years ago. The comedy, starring the stand-up performer Jerry Seinfeld, did even better for NBC, with an unexpectedly mighty audience of 76 million.

But industry experts note that the television world has changed significantly since 1998, with different options in home entertainment making it harder for any broadcast network to replicate such high viewership numbers today.

Just as with Seinfeld , the final gasp of the six no-longer-quite-so-young friends - Joey, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross and Chandler - will be celebrated with scores of impromptu farewell parties across the country tonight to mark the end of their 10-year run. As many as 3,000 New Yorkers will settle by the Hudson river on the lawn at Pier 25 for an outdoor screening of the last episode. NBC has stayed mostly silent about the storyline.

But the network has been less coy about the bevy of guest stars expected to bid the radio psychiatrist in Frasier goodbye next week. They include Robbie Coltrane, Richard E Grant, Jason Biggs and Laura Linney.

Of course, it is not a final farewell this evening. Joey, played by the actor Matt LeBlanc, will surface again in a spin-off show set in Los Angeles that will simply be called Joey and is due to make its debut this autumn. And die-hard fans of Friends will doubtless be able to find the sexy sixsome resurrected almost nightly in syndicated re-runs on television for several more years to come.

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