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Wednesday, 21 July, 1999, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Friends in the money
Lucrative Friends: The cast are set for a bumper pay rise
The stars of hit US sitcom Friends could earn around $250,000 per episode if they sign up for a sixth series of the show, according to industry reports.

Trade newspaper Variety reports US network NBC is preparing to pay producers Warner Brothers $5m (3.1m) to keep the show in production until 2002.

The show's six stars - Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer - are already making around $100,000 (63,000) per show.

The paper quotes insiders are predicting the actors could earn at least $250,000 (159,000) under the new deal.

ER is the only show more popular than Friends
The programme has had a history of salary dispures since it started in 1994, when the actors were paid just $1,600 (1,000) an episode. In 1996, the cast threatened to go on strike unless they received pay increases.

Last year Warner Bros paid the Friends stars a Christmas bonus of $200,000 (126,000) designed to keep them with the series.

As well as being a worldwide hit, Friends has helped NBC to dominate Thursday nights on US television, attracting an average of 23.5m viewers each week.

It is the country's most-watched comedy, and the second most-watched show overall behind medical drama ER - which is also made by Warner Bros for NBC. It has also held its popularity - in contrast to steep declines shown by other NBC shows.

NBC recently paid Warner Bros $13m ($8.2m) per show for three more seasons of ER. The Friends deal could be worth a smiliar amount on a cost-per-hour basis, earning Warner Bros $10m (6.3m) per hour.

See also:

30 May 98 | Entertainment
Wedding clanger ends in Friends cliffhanger
23 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Friends cast gets Christmas bonus
11 Nov 98 | Entertainment
$1m Christmas bonus for Friends
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