Producers ink to stay ‘Friends’

But separate pacts with Warners loom

Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane will still be there for “Friends”–but have otherwise decided to put their partnership on hiatus.

The trio have sealed a new deal with Warner Bros. Television to remain with “Friends” for the next two years, continuing to run the hit NBC comedy as executive producers.

But beyond “Friends,” Bright and Kauffman have sealed individual development deals with the studio, while Crane has decided to wait before making his next move.

Kauffman’s pact with Warner Bros. goes into effect after “Friends” wraps, while Bright’s deal begins immediately.

Different pursuits

The decision to sign separate pacts with Warner Bros, as opposed to sealing a new deal as Bright/Kauffman/Crane, came after the three principals decided to pursue “slightly different things,” Crane said.

While Bright will forge ahead developing new projects through his new deal (while continuing as both a producer and a director on “Friends”), Crane and Kauffman said they’d prefer to focus on the long-running laffer for now.

“No one got into cars and drove off angrily,” Crane said. “We didn’t want to make too big of a deal with it because we didn’t want people to misperceive it as one big horrible breakup. That’s not how we’re thinking of it.”

The Bright/Kauffman/Crane announcement comes just one month after the six stars of “Friends” negotiated new deals worth $750,000 per episode each for two years.

Crane and Kauffman–longtime chums who first partnered with Bright to create the HBO sitcom “Dream On” in 1989–said the trio may still work together on future projects.

“We never said to each other we’re only going to do things separately,” Kaufman said. “Kevin wants to pursue things sooner than we’re ready to, so we said great, why should we stop him? Beyond that, we’re crazy about each other. We do wonderful things together. There’s nothing in us that says we’re not going to work together anymore.”

Crane said he appreciated the “flexibility” of not being beholden to a development deal for now.

“I had reached a point where I knew I just wanted to do ‘Friends’ for the moment and after that I wasn’t even sure,” he said. “So I didn’t want to make a decision before it was time to make a decision.”

Staying focused

Having produced “Friends” as well as the departed NBC sitcoms “Jesse” and “Veronica’s Closet” in recent seasons, Kauffman admitted “an element of exhaustion” was at play in deciding to focus on “Friends” rather than new projects.

“The lesson for us was, don’t necessarily put so much on your plate,” Crane said. “I’m proud of a lot of work we’ve done over the past two years, but I tell you, I’m really looking forward to not doing three shows. On the other hand, I think Kevin flourished with it, and I think probably is looking forward to getting more stuff on his plate.”

Crane also noted that Bright has experience producing reality programs (including variety specials featuring David Copperfield, George Burns and Dolly Parton)–currently the hottest trend in TV.

Bright’s other credits include production credits on “In Living Color” and HBO’s “The History of White People in America.”

Kauffman and Crane met in college, where they first partnered as writers.

While “Dream On” spent six years on HBO, the trio became one of the hottest producing teams in TV after “Friends” hit big in 1994.

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