Pilot Season 2016: The One Where the 'Friends' Come Back

Friends Still OK - H 2015.JPG
Courtesy of Photofest

Pilot Season 2016 could end up becoming The One Where the Friends come back.

This week, CBS and Fox both greenlit half-hour comedy pilots starring Friends alums Matt LeBlanc (Joey) and Courteney Cox (Monica), respectively. Meanwhile, co-star Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe) continues to field pilot offers as David Schwimmer (Ross) has been earning praise for his role as Robert Kardashian on FX anthology The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. For his part, Schwimmer has already booked his follow-up role — starring in AMC's straight-to-series drama Feed the Beast from Dexter and Nurse Jackie grad Clyde Phillips.

Not to be outdone, Schwimmer's on-screen son Cole Sprouse (who played young Ben) this week booked a co-starring role as Jughead on The CW's Archie Comics reboot Riverdale from uber-producer Greg Berlanti.

For LeBlanc — poised to go into production on the fifth and potentially final season of Friends alum David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik's Showtime comedy Episodes — his role in CBS' I'm Not Your Friend comes with a hefty series penalty attached should the family comedy fail to make the grade at CBS. (The role comes in addition to Episodes and his new gig as co-host of the BBC's Top Gear.) Should the the multicamera family comedy (which he also exec produces) go to series, it would mark LeBlanc's first broadcast role since NBC's Friends spinoff Joey ended its less than two-season run a decade ago.

For Cox, meanwhile, she'll star in and exec produce Fox's Charity Case. The single-camera comedy, if it goes to series, would mark Cox's return to broadcast television after ABC's Cougar Town moved to TBS in 2012 and subsequently ended its run on cable last year.  

Should both I'm Not Your Friend and Charity Case move to series — and CBS renew The Odd Couple for a third season, Cox and LeBlanc would join Matthew Perry (Chandler) in primetime next season, bringing three of the six main Friends back to broadcast, with Schwimmer on basic cable. (It's unclear if Kudrow, who recently revived The Comeback on HBO, will do a pilot this season.)

On the other side of the camera, Friends grads Andrew Reich is behind ABC comedy pilot Pearl; Scott Silveri — who reunited with Perry for NBC's short-lived Go On in 2013 — has Speechless at the Disney-owned network; and Sherry Bilsing-Graham and Ellen Kreamer have Fox buddy comedy The Enforcers in the mix.

The news comes more than 12 years after Friends signed off following its 10-season run as the anchor to NBC's former Must-See TV Thursday night lineup. The cast — save for Perry — is set to reunite Feb. 21 on the network for a tribute to legendary director-producer James Burrows. (Perry will participate via taped segments.) Cox and LeBlanc are also set to present Friends co-creators Marta Kauffman (herself back in the mix with Netflix's Grace and Frankie) and Crane with the WGA's Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for television writing achievement this month.

The return of the Friends stars to broadcast comes as the competition for talent — especially familiar faces like the stars of one of TV's most popular comedies — continues to become more intense this time of year. On top of the broadcasters' 80-plus (and counting) pilots, networks are competing with basic cable, premium as well as streaming services for talent in the same traditional pilot season window as the scripted landscape grows to more than 400 originals.

The ball is in your court, Jennifer Aniston.