Great Britain

Friends bosses eye up new 12-part series worth £1billion after announcing sitcom’s one-off special

ITS finale is telly’s most-watched single episode of the century – and now Friends is back, for the most lucrative one-off in history.

The US sitcom will return for an unscripted special said to be worth £350million.

And execs are eyeing up a 12-part series, to air next year, which could be worth an astonishing £1BILLION.

Stars Jennifer Aniston, ­Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer confirmed the reunion simultaneously on Instagram, writing: “It’s happening!”

Sixteen years after Friends’ final episode — titled The Last One — aired, the one-hour special will be screened on new streaming service HBO Max.

It will likely take the form of interviews with the cast, though HBO promised it would “capture the spirit” of the hit show.

A US source said: “This reunion has been 18 months in the making. Cast and crew have been made to sign rigid non-disclosure agreements to keep everything as fresh and exciting as possible.

"It took a long time to convince Matthew and Jennifer in particular to get on board. But once these two were signed up, things moved pretty quickly.

“Officially, the deal has been signed for a one-off. But the hope is that once everyone sees how well it’s received and how much love there is for the show, another series will be agreed and commissioned.

“If this happens, agents will be licking their lips. This will be the kind of small-screen payday the likes of which has never been seen. Including streaming rights, cast fees, spin-offs and merchandising, this could be TV’s inaugural billion-pound contract.”

A-list fans in shock

CELEBRITY Friends fans took to social media tonight to share their excitement about the reunion special.

Reese Witherspoon, who guest-starred in season six as Rachel’s younger sister Jill wrote: “WHAT???!!! This is the greatest news ever!”

A stunned Gwyneth Paltrow tweeted, “NO F’ING WAYYYYYYYY” while actress Michelle Pfieffer wrote simply: “WHAT.”

It was also revealed the series’ six stars will all be credited as executive producers for the new special.

Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, the comedy, set in New York’s Manhattan, ran for ten series between 1994 and 2004.

The final episode was watched by 52.5million viewers in the US — making it the most-watched single show of the 21st century. Another 8.9million viewers tuned in over here on Channel 4.

In that final episode, Ross (Schwimmer) and Rachel (Aniston) ended up together in an emotional climax.

Over the course of 236 shows, Monica (Cox) and Chandler (Perry) married and had twins via a surrogate, while Phoebe (Kudrow) gave birth to triplets . . . and Joey (LeBlanc) ate countless pizzas.

And they drained endless cups of coffee in their regular haunt, Central Perk.

The reunion episode will be filmed at the show’s original studio, Stage 24 on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California.

With its witty one-liners, lovable characters and soapy plotlines, Friends gained a huge following among viewers in their twenties and thirties.

A new generation of fans has since discovered the show on Netflix.

The programme also made superstars — and multi-millionaires — of its six leads.

According to entertainment industry bible Variety, each actor is earning £1.9million for the one-off — a staggering £31,666 per minute.

It should prove a money-spinner for HBO Max, the new subscription service taking on the likes of Amazon’s Prime Video, Netflix and Apple TV.

While Netflix broke into the mainstream here with Royal Family drama The Crown — reportedly investing £100million into the first two series alone — execs at HBO Max have spent £339million on Friends’ back catalogue.

There is also talk of a ­spin-off series involving the characters’ various offspring.

In 2020, Emma Green — daughter of Rachel and Ross — would turn 18.

In the final series she was left a jokey video message by Chandler, welcoming her to the year 2020.

Phoebe and Monica’s children would be in their twenties — the same as their parents in the original series.

Timeless and for all ages

By superfan Sadie Cohen, 12

ME and my mates all love Friends. It doesn’t matter that it’s so old because it’s timeless.

The characters are so lovable and you can see yourself in them.

It’s easy to watch, comforting and makes you laugh out loud. I can’t wait to see the new one.

My favourite character is Chandler. His endless jokes crack me up.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters have grown and what they have been up to since we last saw them.

My big sister, who is 18, and my mum both love Friends too. So it seems to appeal to everyone.

Rachel and Ross said they would like another daughter, whom they would name Ella, potentially adding to the next-generation gang.

Tellingly, last month twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon — who both played baby Emma — Photoshopped an image of themselves sat on the famous Central Perk sofa.

Captioned, “Emma Geller-Green, 16 years later!” it was later shared on the official Friends fansite.

It is thought one of the twins — who are both actresses — could play Emma, while the other might be cast as Ella.

A source said: “Behind the scenes there’s been a huge bidding war between the streaming giants. It’s a massive gamble for HBO Max chiefs. There is a huge appetite for all things nostalgia and the commercial and merchandising opportunities are massive.

“The door has been left open for a spin-off series — Friends: Generation Z. Ideas are already being thrown around.”

Tonight talent agency boss Prof Jonathan Shalit said: “Friends is the biggest global TV phenomenon of the past two decades. It is the ultimate family show, meaning every brand imaginable, from Apple for iPhones to cars to dishwasher tablets, will want to invest in product placement.

“It’s the first £1billion television event of the century.”

Monica, Courteney Cox

NOW a producer and director as well as actor, the 55-year-old is best known beyond Friends for playing reporter Gale Weathers in the Scream movies.

She also starred as a divorced single mum in sitcom Cougar Town between 2009 and 2015, bagging a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination and a reported £200,000 per episode.

Estimated worth: £90million

Joey, Matt LeBlanc

THE 52-year-old’s Friends spin-off Joey was cancelled by US network NBC midway through its second season.

He then hosted Top Gear on BBC2 and starred in five seasons of comedy Episodes.

Matt now appears in US sitcom Man With A Plan and is dating Irish documentary maker and ex-Top Gear producer Aurora Mulligan.

Estimated worth: £62million

Phoebe, Lisa Kudrow

THE 56-year-old actress has appeared in numerous movies, including 1999’s Analyse This and last year’s Long Shot, as well as a host of TV appearances.

Lisa played a sitcom star called Valerie Cherish in two series of satirical HBO show The Comeback.

She is married to French advertising executive Michel Stern, having wed in 1995.

Estimated worth: £70million

Chandler, Matthew Perry

THE 50-year-old struggled with drugs and alcohol during the Friends era but is now sober.

Matthew appeared in films including The Whole Nine Yards and guest-starred on hit shows such as The West Wing and The Good Wife.

He co-wrote a revival of classic sitcom The Odd Couple, pocketing a reported £115,000 per episode.

Estimated worth: £55million

Rachel, Jennifer Aniston

ONE of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, with movies including Marley & Me, Horrible Bosses and The Break-Up.

Jennifer has enjoyed numerous big-money endorsement deals and has put her name to fragrances.

Her love life has long been a staple of gossip columns, with marriages to actors Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux.

Estimated worth: £155million

Ross, David Schwimmer

DAVID Schwimmer acted on stage and moved into directing after Friends.

Other career highlights for the 53-year-old include 2001’s World War Two telly epic Band Of Brothers and his Emmy-nominated turn as Robert Kardashian in 2016 mini-series The People Vs OJ Simpson.

He also Stars in new Sky One comedy Intelligence.

Estimated worth: £65million

Jennifer Aniston explains her ‘tease’ Instagram posts about a Friends reunion