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In a world rife with revivals and reboots, there's one that got away: the mythical Friends reunion. Ever since the six pals walked off into the Central Perk sunset, viewers have been waiting patiently for a hint of their return and feverishly rewatching the series. (Which explains the apocalyptic reactions to all 236 episodes leaving Netflix on January 1, 2020.)
Alas, there may finally be some good news for Friends fans. Matthew Perry tweeted that the previously announced HBO Max reunion will film in 2021. This is the first update regarding filming since August, when sources told Variety that the reunion was on hold again due to coronavirus filming restrictions. The special was previously supposed to be shot in March 2020 with a live audience and released on May 27 to coincide with the launch of HBO Max, where you can stream all the episodes. Then filming got tentatively moved to summer, although that plan was soon scrapped.
On April 2, Deadline confirmed that filming for the special will begin next week on the original Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank. It's finally happening, people!
Ahead, read everything we know about the Friends reunion.
Everyone will play themselves
In an interview with Graham Norton during the first week of April, David Schwimmer told the talk-show host he was leaving for Los Angeles to begin filming the special.
"I'm going to Los Angeles. We're going to be shooting the Friends reunion next week," he said. "I'm hopping on a plane this afternoon, this evening. And yeah, gonna see everyone next week for the first time in many years."
He added that the whole cast will appear as themselves instead of their characters: "I'll be myself. I'll be David. There's nothing is scripted, we're not in character. We're all ourselves, the real people, although there is one section of it that I don't want to give away, but we all read something."
The reunion was officially announced in February 2020.
HBO Max confirmed on February 21 that a reunion of the original six cast members (Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer) would help launch its service that May.
The special was untitled and would be unscripted, with filming taking place at Friends' original soundstage, Stage 24, on the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank. “Guess you could call this the one where they all got back together—we are reuniting with David, Jennifer, Courteney, Matt, Lisa, and Matthew for an HBO Max special that will be programmed alongside the entire Friends library,” Kevin Reilly, chief content officer, HBO Max and president, TBS, TNT, and truTV, confirmed in a statement. “I became aware of Friends when it was in the very early stages of development and then had the opportunity to work on the series many years later and have delighted in seeing it catch on with viewers generation after generation. It taps into an era when friends—and audiences—gathered together in real time and we think this reunion special will capture that spirit, uniting original and new fans.”
Each original Friends cast member confirmed the news on Instagram, captioning the same group shot, "It's happening..." to the thrill of celebrity and regular fans alike.
Original Friends producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane will co-executive produce the special alongside the six cast members. Ben Winston will direct the special, as well as executive produce alongside Emma Conway and James Longman.
In November 2020, Perry casually tweeted that a filming schedule for the HBO Max special has been set. "Friends reunion being rescheduled for the beginning of March. Looks like we have a busy year coming up. And that's the way I like it!" he wrote.
Whenever the special airs, it'll be in front of a live audience.
WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer chairman Bob Greenblatt told Variety in May that no matter the start date, he didn't envision the special going virtual. “We do think there’s a value to having a big, raucous live audience to experience these six great friends coming back together and we didn’t want to just suddenly do it on a web call with, you know, six squares and people shooting from their kitchens and bedrooms.”
The reunion was previously a "maybe," reportedly because of money.
Deadline reported in January that a previously-planned HBO Max reunion with all six cast members and co-creators/executive producers Kauffman and Crane was at "a standstill." In the report, Deadline attributed the PIVOT(!) away from an unscripted special to negotiation issues. Allegedly, producing studio Warner Bros. TV and the OG cast members were "far apart on money." Like, an eight-figure gap, sources told the outlet.
“There is interest all around and yet we can’t get the interests all alighted to push the button on it,” HBO Max’s Chief Creative Officer Kevin Reilly said about the reunion special at the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday. “Today it’s just maybe.”
In the past, getting the gang together was shut down.
As it turns out, there was reason to be skeptical about an official reunion with Rachel, Ross, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, and Chandler. Ever since the popular sitcom ended in 2004, the creative team has been steadfast about not returning.
Nearly everyone who breathed near the soundstage where Friends shot has dodged questions about a revival. And as recently as 2019, those involved were still shutting down rumors. During a Friends 25th anniversary panel at Tribeca TV Festival in September, Kauffman and Crane nixed ideas of a scripted return.“We will not be doing a reunion show, we will not be doing a reboot,” Kauffman said. “The show was about that time in life when friends are your family,” she explained, adding that the characters are in a different place with their own families.
Each cast member has spoken out against a return before.
Prior to 2019, every cast member found a reason to evade Friends 2.0.
In 2018, Schwimmer had this to say about a reunion/reboot: “Look, the thing is, I just don’t know if I want to see all of us with crutches [and] walkers." That same year, Kudrow told Conan O'Brien, "They're rebooting everything. I don't know how that works with Friends, though. That was about people in their twenties, thirties. The show isn't about people in their forties, fifties. And if we have the same problems, that's just sad."
And in 2017 Perry even referred to the idea as a "nighmare" during a Vanity Fair interview:
“I have this recurring nightmare—I’m not kidding about this. When I’m asleep, I have this nightmare that we do Friends again and nobody cares. We do a whole series, we come back, and nobody cares about it. So if anybody asks me, I’m gonna say no. The thing is: we ended on such a high. We can’t beat it. Why would we go and do it again?”
For now, the 2016 mini-reunion lives on.
The closest the world came to a proper get-together took place in 2016. Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc and Schwimmer appeared together for an interview to celebrate the work of director James Burrows. Perry was performing a play in London and couldn't attend but filmed a short video that aired during the event.
During a recent virtual reunion between Aniston and Kudrow, the pair remained mum on reunion plans. "Yeah, we don’t know everything about it, we need to say," Kudrow explained during the Variety Actors on Actors segment. "I think we’re meant to be surprised by some things as well." They did confirm that the special isn't scripted. "I will not be Phoebe," Kudrow stated. Aniston added, "I will not be Rachel, although I kind of am. Well, we’re all sort of little fragments of them."
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