Friends was a true pop culture phenomenon during the 90s and 2000s, influencing fashion and hairstyles, interior design, people wanting cappuccinos in absolutely massive cups, and much more besides. The soaring success of the comedy series famously led the cast to demand significant pay increases, and eventually being granted (Dr. Evil voice) one million dollars each, per episode.
However, it wasn’t simply a case of the cast asking and receiving straight away. As reported in ABC News in 2003, Garth Ancier, a former NBC executive found himself in a high-stakes re-negotiation with the hugely popular cast in 2000. All six of the show’s stars were asking for $1,050,000 per Friends episode each. “We thought $700,000 was an appropriate increase,” recalled Ancier. But their response to $700,000 per episode was “We’d like $1,050,000.”
Ancier said he needed a way to prove to the cast that NBC was serious about walking away from the biggest hit on its prime-time schedule. “So I asked the promotion department to cut promos saying ‘you’ve loved them for seven years, see how it all ends with the series finale of Friends this Thursday at eight.’ People around me felt that was a little on the mean side, but I didn’t see any other way to make the threat real.”
The threat worked and the Friends came back to the negotiating table. Two years later, they got their $1 million-an-episode deal. Ironically, the success of shows like Friends helped usher in the ‘golden age of television’ in the 2000s and beyond. This meant that movie stars who would never have previously considered television began flocking to ‘prestige’ series on HBO and elsewhere.
With a few rare exceptions such as the lead of the Yellowstone cast Kevin Costner, and 1923’s Harrison Ford (who probably do command the big bucks), in today’s oversaturated streaming landscape, it’s unlikely that many TV actors are getting one million per episode these days.
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