Merchandising TV history: a peek inside Warner Bros' pop-up Friends experience

The Friends pop-up experience opens in New York

In a fractured media landscape, keeping a television show alive years after broadcast takes more than just syndication and streaming. It takes merchandising – and that’s just what the planners of the immersive Friends pop-up experience in Manhattan have done on an epic scale.

Friends, which aired from 1994 through 2004 on NBC, was a must-watch show on Thursday nights. But after it ended, it captured the attention of a new generation, which found the series on Netflix.

Now, as that run is slated to end with the show’s move to HBO Max in 2020, Warner Bros, with help from experiential marketing agency Superfly, is keeping the show alive through a mixture of nostalgia and merchandising.

The pop-up is a museum-like tribute to the show that gave us Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler and Phoebe, and there’s plenty for fans to take away aside from just photos and memories.

A media preview of the space in the SoHo neighborhood is a walk through the 90s and a trip through the world of Friends, complete with actual memorabilia from the characters, a recreation of the rooms and spaces that brought the iconic show to life, and cameos from Friends characters.

As fans stroll through the exhibit, they can view items such as Phoebe’s guitar, on which she played the song Smelly Cat, Joey’s doctor coat from when he played Dr Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives, the couch which would not “pivot” up the stairs, and the turkey Monica wore on her head during the Thanksgiving episode, as well as the ridiculous amount of clothing Joey wore to make fun of Chandler.

Also included are character profiles, a fountain recreation from the opening credits with a couch to practice your umbrella twirling, and a review of Rachel’s hairstyles, which became iconic from the era.

Maggie Wheeler, who played Chandler’s girlfriend Janice, was on set for the preview.

She stated she was happy a younger generation had found the show and “adopted Friends the way they have”. She said that her best memories were from the coffee shop (Central Perk) because she shot her first scene there.

She also stated, in a much more subdued voice than her character had on the show, that people are surprised that she doesn’t speak like Janice, and then proceeded to do the signature cackling laugh for effect.

James Michael Tyler, who played Central Perk owner Gunther, looked much different than his platinum blonde character on the show, but seemed right at home in the Central Perk recreation.

All of the exhibits in the pop-up lead people to a final sales pitch, where they can choose to buy plenty of exclusive Friends merchandise, from hats and shirts to keychains, games, tote bags, socks and turkey head oven mitts.

Fans can even purchase food from a Central Perk café, which features items such as Joey’s New York apple pie and Rachael’s 'oops I dropped the cheesecake'.

See images from the experience by clicking on the Creative Works box below, and learn more about the event at Friends25popup.com.

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