Irresistible deal keeps 'Friends' together for another series

By Andrew Gumbel
Monday 23 December 2002 01:00

The long-running television sitcom Friends will live to see a 10th season after a surprise deal between the programme makers and the NBC network – even though the record-breaking cost of producing the show now far outweighs its profitability.

The deal, cut in secret over the weekend, apparently proved irresistible to all concerned. The six principal actors – no longer the single, childless Manhattanites they were at the outset – will continue to be paid an enviable $1m (£620,000) per episode.

Warners Brothers Television, the show's distributor, will earn an unprecedented $10m per episode. Even NBC, which cannot hope to recover that kind of money through advertising revenue, will still reap some benefits -- notably the certain knowledge of large audiences for its prime-time Thursday night slot, which will in turn help the network's overall standing in the never-ending ratings wars.

Friends is no longer the most popular show on American television – it has ceded that honour to a CBS police series called CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – and the 10th season will seemingly be the last. Whether next year will see a full season of 22 half-hour shows or something short of that is unclear. Jennifer Aniston, who plays Rachel, has made clear she wants to spend more time cultivating a movie career after the critical success of her performance in this year's independent film The Good Girl.

One television executive told Variety magazine the number of episodes was a "quality of life" issue – a delicious locution for six international celebrities who need never worry about going hungry.

While producing 22 episodes a year might seem a drag to some of the cast members, others clearly enjoy the regular working hours and easy money. Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe, told an interviewer recently the job was ideal for a mother with young children.

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