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Cast Gets a Reason to Stay ‘Friends’ a While Longer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than five months of negotiation, the “Friends” cast finally has the ultimate Hollywood stocking-stuffer: lucrative new contracts.

The hit NBC comedy’s stars--Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer--have agreed to new deals that include a sixth season, the program’s production company, Warner Bros. Television, confirmed in a brief statement.

The original contracts covered only five seasons, which is standard on new series. The group employed a novel negotiating tactic in July by banding together to seek $100,000 each per episode.

Parties declined to discuss terms, but the actors will receive substantial raises from the $40,000 or so they made last year. The new pact will escalate annually, reportedly averaging in excess of $90,000 an episode over four years (including a raise for the current season) and topping $100,000 in the final year.

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Warner Bros. produces at least 22 episodes of “Friends” per season, putting the cast’s annual salaries around $2 million each. Insiders insist that talks have been amicable, with the stars continuing to work while negotiations dragged on and finishing touches were put on the deal.

Sources say Schwimmer had been most reluctant to agree to an extension but ultimately gave in on a sixth year.

Currently in its third season, “Friends” remains one of NBC’s most popular shows. The series is watched by more than 25 million people each week, ranking fourth among prime-time programs behind only fellow Thursday-night heavyweights “ER,” “Seinfeld” and the show sandwiched between them, “Suddenly Susan.”

Moreover, securing the show’s future is particularly crucial to NBC as the network waits to see if the cast of “Seinfeld” will agree to return for a ninth season.

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“Friends” has been an enormous success for everyone involved, including Warner Bros., which has already sold rerun rights to local TV stations in deals estimated to be worth $500 million. Published reports about those sales, in fact, were said to have spurred the renegotiation push.

The six performers, then mostly unknowns, made $22,500 each an episode during the first season and have all landed feature-film roles since the series took off.


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