When Friends first premiered in 1994 with a cast of six unknown actors, they were each netting around $20,000 per episode. By the final season, all six of the superstars were making $1 million per episode—each. It was unprecedented, especially because the cast banded together each time to renegotiate, a practice sitcom casts like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory have adopted since.
“We wanted to be paid the same because we thought that was fair,” Aniston said in an ET interview at the time, but it also spoke to the close tight-knit bond of the cast, which never really really experienced rumors of rifts or tension during their 10-year run together, a rarity in Hollywood.
For all 236 episodes, the cast members huddled together backstage just before taping kicked off, with Bright saying, “That’s one thing that has stayed consistent for 10 years, is that nobody knows what goes on in that huddle. Nobody gets near it—I don’t think you’re allowed to be within eyesight.”
Since the renegotiation talks were being reported on in great detail in the press, the Friends cast received some backlash for demanding such large paychecks, with Aniston once saying in an ET interview, “They gave us all a hard time and aren’t we bratty little spoiled actors to go in and do whatever it is we did.”
But just look at how much freakin’ money the show was pulling in: 30-second commercials during final season were going for $1 million, with the series finale’s coveted spots netting $2 million, the largest advertising rate for a sitcom ever.
And the series finale was watched by 52.5 million viewers, making it the fourth most-watched episode of television in history, with the retrospective special that aired before it even earning 35 million viewers.
Still, LeBlanc once again defended their big paydays in a 2015 interview.
Were we worth $1 million? To me, that’s such a strange question. It’s like, well, that’s irrelevant. Are you worth it? How do you put a price on how funny something is?” he told Huffington Post. “We were in a position to get it. If you’re in a position in any job, no matter what the job is—if you’re driving a milk truck or installing TVs or an upholsterer for a couch—if you’re in a position to get a raise and you don’t get it, you’re stupid. You know what I mean? We were in a position and we were able to pull it off. ‘Worth it’ has nothing to do with it.”