I’ll Be There for You: What “Friends” Taught Us About Salary Negotiations

We’ve ‘been on a break’ from the popular television show Friends for eleven years, but the cast’s high salary and equal pay for equal work demand is relevant today. When our favorite friends walked out of Central Perk and into the network’s offices in 2002, their demand for higher pay for all was as unheard of as moving from New York to Yemen. The demand turned heads in the entertainment industry. The unswayable six, huddled together as they did before every show and played hardball with the network. They were irreplaceable, so their demand was undeniable.

At the time, the amount of their demand couldn’t BE any bigger. $1 million per episode for 6 people. With 22 episodes per season, the cast of Friends cost the network a cool $132 million per season. By 2002 with 8 seasons complete, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe were household names. They were our lobsters. Though Joey’s Dr. Drake Romoray on ‘Days of Our Lives’ was replaceable, Matt LeBlanc as Joey was irreplaceable, and so were the other 5 cast members’ characters. The cast had the upper hand—if they walked out, there was no show.

As we’ve recently seen starlets in the news speaking out about the gender wage gap and pay inequality, it brings a new significance to what the cast of Friends accomplished thirteen years ago. The cast was made of 3 and 3—3 women, 3 men. They walked in together—as men and women—and as equals. The conversation was not, ‘the men make this amount so the women make this’. It was the definition of equal pay for equal work. The value-add of each cast member—despite whether you liked Ross or not—was equal.

Though the cast members’ actions made the industry say “Oh…my…God”, their intentions weren’t necessarily to address the gender wage gap—that was just a positive externality. A pay gap prior to the deal may have not existed at all, as each were rumored to make $750,000 per episode

With the recent leak from the hack on Sony, and other disclosures of the gender pay gap in Hollywood, we are seeing that equal pay isn’t necessarily the trend. Though, as PayScale found, that gap may be less than the well-rumored 78 cents on the dollar, or 22%. This figure refers to the uncontrolled gender pay gap—the calculation that compares the average earnings of all working men, to the average earnings of all working women. When PayScale calculated a controlled gender pay gap, in which the earnings of men and woman in similar roles with similar experience, the gap shrinks to 2.7%. The 2.7% gap is what we are likely to see in Hollywood.Obviously, salaries in Hollywood aren’t necessarily relatable to the average employee, it is important to recognize that even when a show or movie’s success is dependent on a star-powered female lead, the male counterpart may be receiving higher pay simply for being male and having more power to negotiate a better salary. Thirteen years after Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox sat at the table and negotiated higher pay alongside their male costars, we see women on the silver screen still in positions where they are making less.

Curious as to how you, as an employer, can help close the gender pay gap? Check out PayScale’s Gender Pay Gap 101.