Did ‘Friends’ producers rebuild the sets for the HBO Max reunion?

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In an interview with E!, “Friends” production designer John Shaffer revealed just how much work went into recreating the sets used on the show’s HBO Max reunion special.

For the special, which featured one of only two times all six primary cast members had been in the same room since the last day of production back 2004, producers wanted to recreate three of the sets shown most often — the two apartments (along with the hallway between) and coffeehouse Central Perk.

Incidentally, the coffeehouse and two apartments are also available as Lego sets.

Warner Bros., like many backlots, has extensive storage space for costumes, set dressings and even portions of sets from numerous film and movie productions over the years — some of which are reused on other productions on an as needed basis.

After “Friends” went off the air, Warner Bros. decided to open an “experience” that let tourists see a variety of these items in a museum-like setting as well as explore a recreation of Central Perk.

However, when converting the set to work as a museum exhibit, it was assembled in such a way that made it almost impossible for it to be taken apart and moved to Stage 24, where “Friends” shot all but one of its seasons.

So, Shaffer and his team, which included his design and life partner Joe Stewart, opted to rebuild Central Perk essentially from scratch — taking set dressing, furniture and other items out of storage when possible or finding close or identical matches or, in some cases, building them from scratch.

The street outside of Central Perk, which wasn’t really a full fledged set until Season 2, had never been well documented so it was tough to recreate, Shaffer told E!

Shaffer was able to find most of the apartment sets walls and other structural elements, but here again, the items on the set proved more challenging. Thankfully, like most productions, there were not only the episodes themselves to refer to but also reference photos taken by the production design and set dressing departments.

It was using these sources that the team was able to reprint the pattern on Monica’s apartment area rug on a plain one when the original couldn’t be found. The team used a similar technique to recreate the parquet floor patterns.

After months of working on painstakingly recreating the sets, everything was set to go — and then COVID-19 hit.

HBO put the breaks on the filming of the special since it was originally slated to film during what turned out to be one of the toughest parts of the pandemic and film and TV production was largely shut down in California.

So, the sets, which waited 17 years to be recreated, had to sit it out for another few months until the special could be shot under health and safety protocols.

This wasn’t the first time the set from a popular TV show has been taken out of storage or rebuilt.

Other reunion or specials after the show has gone off the air have used similar approaches — though with varying degrees of quality and attention to detail.

“Will & Grace” was able to preserve the set for Will’s apartment because it was moved and displayed at one of the co-creator’s college for several years — until the college called saying it didn’t have space for it anymore and wanted to return it.

It was reassembled back in Hollywood for use in a short encouraging viewers to vote ahead of the 2016 election and then was used, with modifications, for the show’s revival on NBC.