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The Ruminator: With ‘Friends’ like these …

Aug 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

With the two-week orgy of self-aggrandizement known at the TCA summer press tour now over, we can officially look ahead to the fall and the 2002-03 TV season. As a veteran of many Television Critics Association sessions from the TV executive side, I’ve always wondered who hated those two weeks more: the bored, cynical writers or we bored, cynical TV execs, actors and producers.
After studying this year’s pronouncements, the Ruminator sees a tighter race for first between perennial power NBC and the up-and-coming CBS for the nonsensical title of “King of all Households.” It’s nonsensical because all that really counts are demos, as in the sentence, “It’s demonstrable that advertisers just ponied up billions of dollars in the upfront to buy targeted audience segments, not households.” But the press likes nonsensical titles.
Fox looks to have enough programming muscle to edge the beleaguered ABC for third. ABC isn’t just in fourth place, it’s mired in fourth place. And lemme tell you, that’s not somewhere you want to be. Just ask Sir Howard Stringer. CBS used to be mired in third place, and the term, which the press loved-as in “CBSmired”-nearly drove Stringer batty. My prognostication of the finishing order for the upcoming TV season is the same as the conventional wisdom, and for once the conventionalist will be right on.
The most intriguing notion to emerge from the former orange groves of Pasadena, Calif., is the admission from NBC Entertainment chief Jeff “I’m glibber than Moonves” Zucker that he hopes beyond reason that this won’t be the final season for the nation and his network’s No. 1 show, the we’re all-Caucasian “Friends” from some mythical all-white New York City. Zucker expressed this hope even though he also realizes-and this was confirmed by the brains behind the show, David Crane and Marta Kauffman-that the end for Chandler, Ross, Joey, Monica, Phoebe and Mrs. Brad Pitt is next May. So with that said, the all-of-a-sudden-candid Zucker conceded that without the Coffeehouse Six anchoring his all-important Thursday night lineup, the old Peacock Network’s dominant days could be in trouble.
Million-dollar salaries
So why would “Friends” not leave on top? Well, there’s always the mother’s milk of TV-cash. All the stars of the show make a million-plus an episode. Mr. Crane and Ms. Kauffman and the assorted producers and directors, et al., also are on the “Friends” gravy train. And what about Warner Bros., the studio that has and will make a fortune in rerun heaven for every show it can add to its library? The last time I looked at its parent company, all monies were needed to pay for that reeling nonsynergistic merger.
Let us now talk about the film careers of the $6 million babies. Oh, eat your heart out, Rob Lowe. Even the president and Martin Sheen, at $300,000 per, are paupers next to Mr. Perry, Mr. Schwimmer, Mr. LeBlanc, Ms. Aniston, Ms. Kudrow and Ms. Cox-Arquette. Have you seen the trailers for Mr. Perry’s summer flick, “Serving Sara,” in which he co-stars with new mommy Elizabeth Hurley? Think “Three to Tango” and “Almost Heroes” here. Remember those Perry clinkers? Don’t worry, nobody else does either. Ms. Aniston has gotten good reviews for her upcoming film “The Good Girl” but has yet to spark box-office gold to match husband Brad. As for the others, Ms. Kudrow couldn’t even find a box-office “Lucky Number” with John Travolta as her co-star. And outside of finding husband David, Ms. Cox-Arquette hasn’t got any screams left. And let’s not even talk about playing second fiddle to a monkey as Mr. LeBlanc did. Schwimmer was jilted by Anne Heche in a movie a couple of years ago. Enough said.
With no movie hits and with watching what happened to those in the “Seinfeld” gang when they returned to TV in solo efforts, maybe “Friends” will indeed be back. One thing the Ruminator has to be impressed with is the all-for-one gumption that these six TV stars have shown. The network and the studio have never been able to drive a wedge between ’em. So for argument’s sake, let’s say some time in February or March the six say OK to more time together. Jeff’s wildest dreams come true. If so, there must be some changes as the “Friends” approach middle age.
Goodbye to Central Perk
First, the Central Perk will not be the place where they meet. As you get older, you have trouble sleeping-so coffee will become a no-no. And with the baby boom on-Rachel a new mom, Ross with two kids now, Phoebe a surrogate mom-perhaps Chandler and Monica’s trying to have a child, maybe the new gathering place will be Gymboree. Hmm, I wonder if Joey has any kids we don’t know about-you know these soap opera actors. By the way, how does nerdy Ross ever get a date, let alone have two TV kids, especially one with the “It Girl” Jennifer Aniston. Ah, TV reality.
We’ve all heard the criticisms of “Friends” over the years. How could those folks afford to live in those New York apartments on their salaries? And the aforementioned lack of minorities. And finally, how could these six stand each other for eight years? (God, I know, I’m beginning to sound like Shales. But hey, he’s off this week and we’ve all gotta get our Shales fix somehow.)
I’m sure all that will be taken care of by 2006 when Zucker’s contract at NBC expires and “Friends” finally comes to a real end when Ross’ son Ben marries Halle Berry in the final episode and Lucy Liu makes Joey forget Rachel in the “Friends” spinoff. By then Joey will be a star, Phoebe will be a lyricist on Broadway and the other four will be living off their inheritances. As the “Friends” producers have said, one thing for sure, at the end they won’t wind up in jail like on “Seinfeld” or drunk in Boston like on “Cheers.”
Farewell, “Friends.” We loved you almost as much as NBC has.