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Zee5 pockets Friends Reunion; delights Indian fans

The special episode of the iconic show premieres in the US on 27 May.

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MUMBAI: This is one show special which is setting social media ablaze. Ever since, Friends Reunion special’s premiere date on HBO Max in the US was announced as 27 May, many an ardent fans' pulse was racing, wondering which platform would  do the honours in India. Well, it’s Zee5 which has beaten the likes of Netflix, Prime, Disney+Hotstar  to the final post and picked up the rights. The announcement was made on Sunday by Zee5 chief business officer Manish Kalra

For a generation and after, Friends, which ran from 1994 to 2004,  had a massive following. In India too. To date, it is one of the more popular series on Netflix, even after almost 27 years since its first episode was aired on TV.

The special episode’s trailer has racked up hundreds of millions of views across several channels on YouTube, and wherever else it has been released.

It shows Jenifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow touring their old sets on the Warner Brothers studio lot followed  by a sit down question and answer session with funny man James Corden in front of a live audience. Naturally Corden’s conversations with the six sees a lot of re-enacting from old episodes, reminiscing, leg pulling, and poignant moments leading to a lot of laughs and even tears for them.

For those who came in late, Friends –  which was created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, who executive produced the series with Kevin Bright through Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television – featured six mates - . Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt Le Blanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) – in New York and their journey into adulthood.

A gaggle of celebs is slated to join the cast: David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, James Corden, Cindy Crawford, Cara Delevingne, Lady Gaga, Elliott Gould, Kit Harington, Larry Hankin, Mindy Kaling, Thomas Lennon, Christina Pickles, Tom Selleck, James Michael Tyler, Maggie Wheeler, Reese Witherspoon and Malala Yousafzai.

The show had also caused major waves towards its ninth and tenth seasons when the six main leads were paid a million dollars in remuneration for each episode. And it is also known for the cameos that some of the biggest stars in Hollywood at that time  made in some episode or the other, right from Brad Pitt to Julia Roberts to Bruce Willis to Sean Penn to Dermot Mulrooney to Winona Ryder to Robin Williams to Billy Crystal to George Clooney to Susan Sarandan to Bonnie Somerville.

The Friends Reunion special credits Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc, Perry, and Schwimmer as executive producers with Ben Winston directing and executive producing alongside Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. A production of Warner Bros Unscripted Television in association with Warner Horizon, Fulwell 73 Productions and Bright/ Kauffman/ Crane Productions, it features Emma Conway, James Longman and Stacey Thomas-Muir as  co-executive producers.

Observers wonder, why Zee5, which has been focusing on producing originals in different Indian languages, took a decision to acquire the rights for an American show in English and coughed up top dollars for a one-off program.

Kalra gives the reason why. Says he: “Friends is amongst the world's most watched and loved sitcoms and it is a great opportunity for us to present their reunion, something that the world has been talking about, on Zee5 for Friends fans in India.”

Currently, Zee5 is available at Rs 499 for a 12-month premium plan. The streaming platform has been striving to sign on subscribers; hence it picked the rights to Salman Khan’s Radhe at Rs 230 crore, which led to some 4.2-odd million concurrent viewers logging onto the film’s premiere.  Hopefully, the Friends Reunion gamble will pay off and lead to a similar surge.

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