After months of negotiations, the six core cast members of Friends have signed on for a reunion interview special that will help launch HBO Max, the WarnerMedia streaming service which will be the new digital home of the beloved 1990s comedy. News that HBO Max was pursuing the actors for the special broke last November on THR, and earlier this month, Deadline and the Wall Street Journal reported that the cast would likely snag in excess of $2 million each to appear, pushing the overall cost of the special to nearly $20 million, including production costs and producer fees. A deal was finalized this week, and the still-untitled special will debut in May when HBO Max begins operations.
So why is HBO Max shelling out so much coin for what’s effectively a glorified episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show? For one, the Friends reunion special all but guarantees enormous amounts of free publicity for the HBO Max launch. The platform’s PR team will be able to milk every juicy quote, every hug, and every tear-filled moment for coverage. It’s also possible that some or all of the cast members will agree to do publicity for the special (and thus the launch of HBO Max), and hype both on their respective social media channels. Indeed, news of the deal was announced via the actors’ respective feeds.
It’s also worth remembering HBO Max is spending over $400 million for the rerun rights to Friends. Its overall content budget will be in the billions. In the grand scheme of things, a $20 million special that can be considered part of a larger marketing campaign — one that’s likely to cost hundreds of millions — amounts to a rounding error for the new platform.
As for the special, HBO Max is offering few details right now. The event will be filmed at Stage 24 on the Warner Bros. lot, where the original show was produced. Late Late Show With James Corden exec producer Ben Winston has signed on to direct and exec produce the program, with the six stars — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer, if for some reason you’ve forgotten their names — and creators Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane also acting as exec producers. Warner Bros. Unscripted and Alternative Television and Winston’s Fulwell 73 are producing the special.