'Friends' Reunion Special to Miss HBO Max Launch

With no clear signs of when production can resume, the WarnerMedia streaming service will move forward with its planned May debut without its most anticipated offering.
NBC/Photofest
The cast of 'Friends'

The cast of Friends will be there for HBO Max … at some point.

The WarnerMedia-backed streaming service on Friday said that the highly anticipated unscripted Friends reunion special will not be available when the platform launches at a date to be determined in May.

Given that the industrywide production shutdown is remaining in place for the foreseeable future, the six original stars and show creators will not be getting together virtually to record the special. Sources say the cast and HBO Max leadership all want to reunite in person on the former NBC comedy's iconic Stage 24 at the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

HBO Max's Friends reunion was supposed to be filmed March 23-24, with stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, as well as series creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, all participating. On March 18, the Friends reunion became the latest production to shut down. Largely all TV and film production — save for animation and voice work — has stopped amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"We want to share some background information about the production dates for the upcoming unscripted Friends reunion special for HBO Max. As was previously reported, production is delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the special will not be available on the streamer on Day 1 of launch. But it is coming!" HBO Max said in a statement. "The cast and producers are all very excited to go into production, as this will be the first time since the show ended that the whole cast will be together, and on the original sets to reminisce. There are loads of great surprises in store and lots of rare behind-the-scenes footage they are eager to share. We will keep you informed as plans solidify and once we have a firm premiere date. Lastly, in order to avoid any misunderstanding about what this special is, we want to make it very clear that this is not a new, original episode of the series. The cast will be appearing as themselves, not as their beloved characters. And though fans will have to wait a bit longer for the reunion, they can watch all 236 episodes of the series on day one of HBO Max launch in May!"

The Friends reunion immediately provides the kind of must-see TV that an upstart streaming service like HBO Max would want. Disney, for example, launched its streaming service late last year with its highly anticipated Star Wars drama The Mandalorian. Apple used the Aniston and Reese Witherspoon drama The Morning Show to do the same when it bowed in November. Both shows deubted with lots of buzz and helped create an urgency to subscribe to both subscription services.

Officially given the green light in February after The Hollywood Reporter exclusively reported that it was in the works in November, the Friends cast all negotiated together and will earn more than double their former per-episode fee for the reunion and be paid between $2.5 million and $3 million for the special. The castmembers famously renegotiated their salaries together during the show's original run to earn a then-historic $1 million per episode.