Syndication’s Best Friends: Distributing a Hit TV Show

My all-time favorite television show is Friends. My bedroom is literally Friends-themed complete with three posters (one of which is the French painting from Monica and Rachel’s apartment), my collector’s box set of the complete series, and a throw pillow covered with inside jokes from the series to bring it all together.

I was only 79 days old when the very first episode aired, placed strategically between Mad About You and Seinfeld. Despite being oblivious to the first few seasons, I distinctly remember growing up with this television show. My family would sit down altogether and watch it at 8 o’clock every Thursday night religiously; we would never miss an episode. I was able to catch up on some of the episodes from earlier season I didn’t remember through reruns, so I felt as though I really knew these six friends as if they were my own. I remember watching the final episode on May 6, 2004 and crying the whole second half of it. It couldn’t be over?! There would never be another Friends! Nooo!!!

Friends CastBut then there were rumors about a reunion! One of the show’s creators, Marta Kauffman, explains in a Friends 20th Anniversary Oral History” that there are many reasons as to why they won’t do another episode. One reason is that the show was all about their one-line pitch “it’s that special time in your life when your friends are your family” and once the friends have their own families, it changes. Former NBC President, Warren Littlefield, also ads that because the ending of the show was so satisfying, the cast was nervous about a reunion. He says they figured “if they can’t do it as well as they did it, then why do it?”

While there may never be another new episode of Friends produced, that doesn’t mean that you’ll never be able to relive those ten precious years with the friends. There are more ways to watch these episodes now than ever before. You can catch some reruns on Nickelodeon, TBS, and Comedy Central, even if you are in Canada, UK, Serbia, Australia, or Greece! They are also now available through online streaming via Netflix, Stan (the equivalent to Netflix but in Australia), or on TBS.com. The other way you can access these episodes is by buying them on DVD or digital copy on iTunes or Amazon Video. Although it has been over ten year since the series finale, Friends is more accessible than it ever has been and by being available on so many windows, it’s capturing entirely new audiences, many of which weren’t even born when the show was first aired!

There is a certain nostalgic element for many Friends fans, and Time Warner knows how to capitalize on that by even sending fans back in time to be able to tour the famous coffee shop the friends notoriously congregated at. For the show’s 20th Anniversary, a pop-up Central Perk was constructed in New York, allowing fans to tour the temporary replica of Central Perk for four weeks last September. Below is a video of a performance of the Friends’ theme song “I’ll Be There For You” by the Rembrandts, at the pop-up location last year, starring a special guest!

Another interesting thing that sparked my attention in the Friends: 20th Anniversary Oral History” article was that even though the show ended over ten years ago, the six stars are STILL making good money off of the show’s residuals. Because of syndication revenues, the show rakes in $1 billion dollars every year, of which each of the six stars receive 2%, calculating out to each star making $20 million every year the show is in syndication; that’s a lot of money for not doing a thing!

Another source of revenue is their DVD and digital sales. By reissuing the complete series in new editions and in box sets, they continue to make so-called “collectors” items for nostalgic fans. Additionally, not only are the episodes sold on iTunes and Amazon Video digitally, when they sold to Netflix the episodes were bought for $500,000 each. The fourth way they scrap up some revenue in this television series diversification article is through their merchandise, especially Trivia Games (some of which are pictured below, and I own them all!), large Central Perk mugs, and even soundtracks. They have a huge cash cow and are still working on milking it dry.

Friends Game    Friends trivia game   Friends Scene It

One more thing that amazed me about the money involved was this show was how much the actors were paid, with their per episode rate climbing from $22,500 in the first season to $125,000 by season six. For season 7, negotiations got messy, with the big six securing $750,000 for each episode though season 8. But in season 9 rates were raised one last time to $1 million dollars per episode for seasons 9 and 10. This really gives you an idea of just how much this series was making, and how this translated to cast salaries.

Our Friends are not going away any time soon. The billions of dollars in syndication and digital revenues will continue for years to come. Friends is here to stay, so let’s relive those ten years with Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica, and Ross again and again! And as far as where the big six stand now…could they BE making any more money?

Ali Holtz

2 thoughts on “Syndication’s Best Friends: Distributing a Hit TV Show

  1. I remember seeing Friends on TV as I was growing up, but my attention always lingered off. It wasn’t until last year that I paid attention enough to realize this was my kind of show. It’s crazy now, to see where I ended up tuning in. I certainly never thought I would be able to stream it anywhere in the world (I first started watching it out of the country.) I’m sure the actors didn’t think they would be making that much money either.

  2. I used to watch this show ALL THE TIME with my family when I was younger. We would even gather our family friends and throw watching parties where the parents would drink wine and the kids would play the friends games, it was fun. To see how much this show has impacted the general audience is crazy. And the fact that these actors have been making enough money off this one show to the point where they didn’t even need to do any other show is crazy.

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