Friends: The One We Can't Reboot

Michael Beausoleil

It’s a pattern we’ve seen repeated for over a decade. A network needs a hit show and they want a guaranteed success. How do they ensure this happens? They reboot something familiar.

Netflix has given us shows like Fuller House and Arrested Development. ABC had a hit with its reboot of Roseanne, then The Conners when Roseanne Barr got fired. CBS has given us Hawaii Five-0 and Magnum P.I. A new generation has been exposed to 90210 and Archie (via Riverdale). This list could go on and on.

In a world of syndication and streaming, one show stands out among the rest. After decades, this show has become the fattest cash cow in the pasture, and we haven’t gotten a reboot yet. Of course, the show I’m referring to is Friends.

(Photo: Friends on HBO Max. Courtesy of Warner Bros Television & HBO)

When HBO Max launched, they obtained exclusive streaming rights to the show for $425 million dollars. The show has become the top performer on the service despite sixteen years without a new episode. It still pulls in viewers, but HBO Max is also trying to give us new content with a reunion episode.

The One on HBO Max

Obviously, there is still a lot of money in this franchise. So much that HBO will pay roughly $20 million ($3–4 million each) to bring the six main actors together. This is for a single one-hour episode.

(photo courtesy of Friends via Warner Bros Television)

This is not a reboot, not even an attempt to tie up loose ends like El Camino did for Breaking Bad. It’s just a reunion where the cast can reminisce on their time filming. It won’t continue the storyline, Jennifer Aniston will not be Rachel, and Lisa Kudrow will not be Phoebe (or Ursula, just to clarify). This is just an opportunity to see the cast together and hear some behind the scenes stories.

Some media outlets have branded this reunion as a “reboot,” which it is not. Perhaps this is an honest mistake or a Freudian slip because there are many people out there hoping for a reboot. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of people hoping for a reunion, though the special is not unwelcome by Friends fans. It’s just not the event they’ve waited sixteen years to see.

The reunion is the easier route, and most likely the only commitment all six would agree to. Even if they could get everyone for a reboot, would HBO want to take the route?

The One With the Reboot

We live in a time when almost anything can get a reboot, but after sixteen years off the air, Friends has remained untouched. It’s been in syndication and streaming, bringing in an endless supply of revenue, but no one has successfully brought a reboot to fruition. HBO’s reunion is the closest thing we’ve seen to date.

Of course the interest is there, the final episode of the series was viewed by 52.46 million people during its original airing. The ending was a cliffhanger of sorts when (spoiler) Rachel gets off her plane to Paris and returns to see Ross. People want to know if the couple got back together, and how the friends are doing now that Monica and Chandler have moved out of the apartment.

The show is one of the most successful shows of all time, and with HBO throwing around $425 million to get streaming rights they could probably coax the stars the type of a reboot we really wanted. We also live in a time where rebooting a show doesn’t automatically mean it’ll be bad. The continuations of Gilmore Girls and Will & Grace were met with generally positive reviews.

Creator Martha Kauffman says no, the show will never get a reboot. She believes any continuation would only disappoint. The ending cuts off the story at a point where fans were left to determine their own ending for most of the characters. This show is designed to revolve around the period of life before people have started families. If you watch the show, you’ll know that most of the cast got married and began family life.

(Photo courtesy of Friends via Warner Bros Television)

A reboot would be a mere cash grab, something the franchise has already done. After the show ended Matt LeBlanc went on to star in Joey, a show that largely disappointed and only existed because the original series was so successful. Rebooting the show would need to determine if it would take the run of Joey into account or continue the show as if the spin-off never happened.

It seems clear that the creators of Friends have no desire to prolong this story. The cast of the show doesn’t have much interest, and it seems to contradict the original premise of the show. It’s likely an opportunity to make money, but not an opportunity that needs to be acted upon.

The One That Will Never Happen

In the future, many shows will get reboots, but Friends won’t be one of them. The show is making plenty of money without a proper reboot; so much money won’t really push it into production.

We often see criticism that Hollywood has lost its originality due to all of the remakes and reboots. There’s validity in this claim, but it’s not because creativity doesn’t run through the minds of creators. Rather, the need to earn money is so powerful that companies would rather make a low-risk reboot than gamble on a high-risk original idea. Friends is so lucrative that simply owning streaming rights will bring in subscribers.

This level of success has put the show in a position where money isn’t guiding the creative process. Rather, the spirit of the original show remains more important than breathing new life into it. This is why Martha Kauffman won’t be green-lighting any new episodes.

(Photo: The Friends cast after the final episode. Courtesy of Friends via Warner Bros Television)

Friends remains a series with ten beloved seasons. While it’s hard to definitively measure quality, it appears to be a show that never soured in its original run. The legions of new fans seem to be a testament to the quality of these ten seasons, and this is a strong enough indicator that there’s no need for a reboot. Other shows, like Full House really didn’t have a lot to lose with a reboot. That show is designed to be cheesy and unbelievable. Fuller House didn’t ruin the legacy of the original series because there wasn’t much to preserve.

Sometimes it’s best not to fix what isn’t broken. Some fans believe a reunion is the least HBO Max could do for Friends. When it comes to those who made the show, the reunion is the most they’ll do.

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Writer, educator, and a few other things.

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