Central Perks: How The Friends Cast Negotiated $1 Million Per Episode

The much-anticipated Friends Reunion special has aired on HBO Max and memories of the characters most dramatic (and hilarious) moments have come flooding back for fans who watched each episode through the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Asking Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, all six originals, to return to the Central Perk couch nearly 17 years later came at a hefty price tag for Warner Brothers.

According to The Sun, each received between $3 and $4 million for their appearance at the reunion. Despite mixed reviews, the show proved to be a hit among fans and by one report, HBO Max subscriptions increased by 600 percent when the reunion was announced – an overall success by all involved.

Not only did the six “friends” skyrocket to fame in 10 seasons of the sitcom, but they also made history as the first 30-minute sitcom, in which all main characters received $1 million per episode.

The Big Bang For Actor Negotiations

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It’s rare to receive this type of income for a 30-minute show, and we know the stars of The Big Bang Theory pulled it off, but they were standing on the shoulders of the first group of actors who formed their own mini-union and negotiated a record-breaking contract.

Here’s how they did it.

In season one and two, each cast member made $22,500 per episode. In season two, most of the stars continued making $22,500 per episode with two of the most popular characters played by Aniston and Schwimmer making $40,000 per episode.

As season three approached it became apparent that the main characters were going to be paid based on popularity and quickly, some actors or actresses were seen as less valuable than others, which not only is a problem working together on set, but it also leaves some feeling like they should move on to other opportunities and breaking up the original six.

Schwimmer had begun receiving movie deals and his agent encouraged him to seek a new negotiated contract. It was his idea for the six to join together and negotiate as a group versus individually, cementing the most successful negotiation of it’s time.

Through their collective strategy, according to Daily Mail, all six received $75,000 per episode in season four (this required a pay cut for both Aniston and Schwimmer), $85,000 per episode for season five and $100,000 per episode in season six.

Then Came Season Six…

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It was during the season six negotiations, the actors and actresses secured payment for syndication, which today, pulls in about $20 million per star, annually.

The largest pay raises yet, came in season seven and eight at $750,000 per episode. While popularity waned in the middle of the series, at this point, the show’s ratings had experienced a resurgence, pulling in 24.5 million viewers per episode.

Writers only had four episodes left to write for season eight and needed to know how to effectively end the season, NBC was desperate to secure at least one more season, since no other show seemed poised to take their top spot and the timing was ripe for the taking.

The six landed a contract for $1 million per episode for season nine and season 10.

The trick was sticking together.

NBC might have managed two of the main characters written off as they went to pursue other things, but if all six walked away, the show was over.

Six, Not Four

According to Yard Barker, Courtney Cox participated in a 2017 interview with Sam Jones for his “Off Camera” series and confirmed the six had discovered if they didn’t stand by each other, NBC was liable to keep four and let two actors/actresses go, making it an “an ugly situation”.

Due to their unity and the value each placed on the other, the six were able to negotiate and make more than they, or anyone else for that matter, thought imaginable.

The last episode of Friends aired in 2004 and according to INSIDER, there are still some (including co-creators) that feel the salary was “inflated” and “kinda ridiculous” but LeBlanc dismisses naysayers.

In 2015, LeBlanc was asked if the cast was worth the historical salary, but LeBlanc said worth had no bearing in the overall picture.

“That’s irrelevant. How do you put a price on how funny something is? We were in a position to get it and we were able to pull it off. No matter what the job is, if you’re in a position to get a raise and you don’t get it, you’re stupid,” LeBlanc said.

Today, the $1 million per episode salary would equate to $1.4 million, but syndication earnings over their lifetime will surely make up for it.

As the Friends stars have moved on to movie deals, television series’, fashion lines and other lucrative careers, fans still enjoy watching the six get together for a reunion show and are still learning more about their time on set, their relationships beyond the screen and the truth behind many popular scenes in the now, famous sitcom.

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Sources: The Sun , Daily Mail, INSIDER, Yard Barker

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