"Friends" (© NBC) SANTA MONICA, Calif., April 26, 2000 -- Maintaining the lifestyle of the rich and famous ain't cheap. And who'd know that better than those perky artistes known as the stars of "Friends" -- who, as the TV nation is well-aware of, are collectively demanding a lofty pay raise as their contracts and the show's sixth-season run down.
As their current monetary compensation goes, each member of the "Friends" sextet pulls in a respectable $125,000 per episode this year, the final stage of a gradual pay hike (from a $40,000 starting point) that was negotiated out of a similar collective bargaining stalemate in 1996.
And despite that's $125,000 an episode, the "Friends" coup is said to be asking for a lot more moolah this time around: as much as $800,000 per episode, per actor -- plus retroactive back pay for this year's 24 shows, according to one report in this month's Entertainment Weekly.
But before appalled readers go, "What the …," such flatulent demands might appear much less preposterous in the context of other tube salaries, wherein even such talent-stricken types such as Jennifer Love Hewitt pocket approximately $100,000 for each consistently bad episode of "Time of Your Life."
Indeed, in such a climate of inflated salary prices, why shouldn't the "Friends" clan, whose show continues to be the No. 1 comedy on TV, demand a fairer share?
Yes, before Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, there were others -- like Tim Allen and Jerry Seinfeld -- who've been there, done that and came out of the renegotiation process obscenely rich.
Here's a look at the salary history of some of TV's best negotiators.
Who: Jerry Seinfeld. What: Co-creator and key neurotic in his eponymous NBC sitcom "Seinfeld" (1990-98). Salary surge: The comic doubled his per-show rate of $500,000 to $1 million for the ninth season of his top-rated series in 1997. Seinfeld reportedly turned down a $5 million per-episode offer to continue the show for a 10th year.
Who: Tim Allen. What: Handyman dad in the ABC comedy "Home Improvement" (1991-99). Salary surge: Obviously inspired by Seinfeld's aforementioned feat, Allen threatened to leave his show after its seventh season if he didn't get the same seven-figure salary in 1997. The comedian ended up besting Seinfeld by sealing a $1.25 million per-show deal with ABC -- a $900,000 increase from his previous $350,000 per-episode rate.
Who: Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt. What: The inoffensively comely couple in NBC's "Mad About You" (1992-99). Salary surge: Reiser and Hunt told the world that they both might not return to the flailing series for a seventh season. And despite the fact that neither expressly wanted more money, NBC nevertheless forked out a $1 million per-episode contract for each to stay -- and they did.
Who: Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Eriq LaSalle. What: Everyman surgeons in the NBC medical drama "ER" (1994-present). Salary surge: After the announced departure of fellow hunky colleague George Clooney and the inking of a $13 million-per-show relicenscing deal between Warner Bros. and NBC in early 1998, Edwards, Wyle and LaSalle all renegotiated their pay -- and got $350,000 to $400,000 each per episode for their troubles.