‘Friends’ Reunion cast ‘quite a lot of money,’ says Mike Darnell

Mike Darnell revealed secrets from his decade-long journey through the world of unscripted television — including his work on the Friends reunion special, American Idol and Hell’s Kitchen — during a career retrospective Tuesday in London, Britain.

He revealed he’d been trying to pull off a Friends reunion since joining Warner Bros. Discovery in 2013. “I’m a huge fan of this show, almost everyone is,” he said. “And I came to Warner Brothers, it was the twentieth anniversary of that show, and I was like, ‘We’ve got to get this done. Why don’t we?’”

But Darnell, who is now president of Unscripted Television at the company, said the project never got off the ground because neither the cast nor the creators – Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane – were interested in it.

“And then about five years later […] I started trying again and at that point HBO Max kind of became a thing and someone said this time Kevin Bright was kind of interested and then he got one of the cast members, that was David Schwimmer, kind of interested and then it was a year and a half of negotiation time,” Darnell said. “I won’t go into detail, but they made quite a bit of money on this special.”

“You’ve probably heard the lore that they negotiate like they’re all negotiating as a team during ‘Friends,'” he added. “The beauty of them is that they really love each other, really. That’s great. It also means that every decision made must be made [run by] between six of them what it was. Very difficult.”

“So we did it on the 27th and a half anniversary.”

While no exact numbers were released, it was believed the cast received $2.5 million each for appearing on the special.

mike darell
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)

Darnell, speaking at UK TV conference Content London, also spoke about some of the other projects he has worked on past and present.

Sharing the origin story of American Idol, Darnell said he “knew we had to get Simon Cowell” after seeing him on Pop Idol, the UK version of the show. “I felt like he was the star of the show,” Darnell explained. “And what made it so different for me wasn’t just that [format being like one long audition], not the phone calls, but the mean judge, the open judge, because on all the other shows that had come before that, everyone was polite and nice even if you were bad, and I knew that was going to be something that resonated with it . But even then we were fighting internally. ‘He’s too mean, little girls won’t like him.’”

Eventually, those who championed a “mean” Cowell won, a decision that Darnell proved right. But he added that the real Cowell had nothing to do with his on-screen personality. “Simon learned the character. He’s kinda different underneath,” Darnell said.

Darnell compared him to chef Gordon Ramsay, who he worked with on Hell’s Kitchen, saying Ramsay was the real deal. “He yelled at people [on the show]it was all real and it was crazy.”

The reality TV king also revealed that network bosses asked Darnell to ask Ramsay, who swears throughout the show, to say “friggin” instead of “fuck”. “I said, ‘I’m not telling Gordon Ramsay to say ‘friggin’,'” Darnell recalled.

Darnell also spoke about his upcoming show The Wheel with British comedian Michael McIntyre, which will premiere on NBC next month. He revealed the network originally wanted to replace McIntyre, who is hosting the UK version, with someone better known in the US. “They wanted this American celebrity to host them,” Darnell explained. “The problem with game shows is that every celebrity thinks they can host it, but as you know, it’s a skill. And if you’re not good at it, you can be a big failure even if you’re a big star. And so we worked on it for months and finally convinced her to let us have Michael.”

Darnell added that it was the right decision because “it’s in his blood, this show. He made it. He’s really funny.”

https://variety.com/2022/tv/global/mike-darnell-friends-cast-reunion-a-lot-of-money-1235443982/ ‘Friends’ Reunion cast ‘quite a lot of money,’ says Mike Darnell

Charles Jones

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