We all know that being in a great comedy is a ticket to the good life, but a lot of viewers might not be aware of the enormous financial commitment required for a program to achieve the degree of popularity and success that Friends has attained recently. Friends is still able to generate a far more than reasonable sum on a regular basis even though merchandise sales and DVD sales have likely reduced to a trickle. This is thanks to syndication (also known as “reruns” for any TV naifs who still exist in this savvy era). Friends still airs virtually constantly on cable networks like TBS, which means money keeps flowing in the same direction. Most of it goes to Warner Bros., but an abnormally large portion of it goes to the actors, who some would argue are mostly to blame for the show’s initial success.
Friends’ cast members notably negotiated all of their contracts collectively rather than individually, and the agreements they reached (especially those reached at the conclusion of the program) are proof of the effectiveness of collective bargaining. The female cast members of The Friends were the highest-paid actresses in television history during the final two seasons of the program, which starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer (also known as The Friends). The finest part of the Friends cast members’ contracts, though, was that in 2000, all six of them shared a two percent portion of the show’s astronomically rich syndication revenue.
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Of course, a share of the syndication earnings for a program that nobody views isn’t very valuable (you can ask Bill Cosby about this if you ever find yourself in the same room with him). But that isn’t the case with Friends, which continues to bring in an estimated $1 billion annually in syndication earnings even in 2015, 11 years after the series’ final episode aired on NBC. That amounts to $20 million per year for each of the six Friends cast members, which is not bad considering they stopped filming in 2004. So the next time you catch a Friends rerun on TV and wonder whatever happened to Matt LeBlanc, cry no tears for the former Joey Tribbiani, he’s been raking in quasi-Seinfeld-level money for more than a decade.
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