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HBO Max’s eagerly anticipated Friends reunion special is being delayed.
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the unscripted special was set to be filmed next Monday and Tuesday on the show’s iconic and former home at Stage 24 of the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank. Given the current state of the global coronavirus pandemic, production has been delayed until at least May. A formal filming date has not been determined as it’s unclear when any programming will be able to resume production.
Most, if not all, current productions — scripted, late-night, daytime and syndicated, among others — have been shut down as the world begins to self-quarantine and employ social distancing. The CDC’s current recommendation is to avoid groups larger than 50. Most productions — even something like the unscripted Friends reunion — have hundreds of people on set at any given moment.
Representatives for HBO Max and producers Warner Bros. TV declined comment.
The Friends reunion special was poised to be 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. That series immediately broke through the clutter and helped create an urgency to subscribe to the service. It’s unclear if the Friends reunion will now be available when HBO Max launches.
Officially given a formal green light a month ago, the six core stars and the creators of the NBC comedy from Warner Bros. TV closed deals to reunite for the one-off HBO Max special. The show, along with the entire library of Friends, will be available in May when the streamer officially bows. Sources say HBO Max’s launch remains on track for its date to be determined in May.
The unscripted reunion special will feature stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, as well as series creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Sources tell THR that the cast, who all negotiated together, 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 cast famously renegotiated their salaries together during the show’s original run to earn a then-historic $1 million per episode of the comedy.
In addition to coming to a financial deal, scheduling with the always in-demand cast was also a central issue in closing a formal agreement for the reunion. Aniston, for example, also has work on Apple’s The Morning Show, which is among the programs that have halted production amid the coronavirus pandemic. Cox recently signed on to topline a Starz horror comedy. LeBlanc leads the cast of the veteran CBS comedy Man With a Plan, and Schwimmer stars in a European drama that will stream on Peacock.
The Friends reunion special will be filmed on Stage 24 of the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, where the entire series was shot. Ben Winston will direct and executive produce alongside Friends alums Kevin Bright, Kauffman and Crane. The project hails from Warner Bros. Unscripted & Alternative TV, with Fulwell 73 Productions also attached. All six stars will also executive produce. Emma Conway and James Longman will co-exec produce.
News of the reunion special, which THR exclusively revealed was a possibility back in November, arrives as Friends has found new audiences at its streaming home on Netflix. The series officially left the streamer at the close of 2019 and will make its debut on WarnerMedia-backed HBO Max when that $15 monthly subscription platform launches in May. Sources say WarnerMedia paid $85 million per year for five years ($425 million) to reclaim streaming rights to Friends for its own platform. (Netflix, for its part, paid $80 million to $100 million to keep Friends on its service for 2019 and was ultimately outbid by WarnerMedia.)
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