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Bright ’76 reflects on ‘Friends’ 20th anniversary

Kevin BrightThis month marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Friends, and the show’s executive producer Kevin Bright ’76 says “it’s a pleasure and an honor” that Hollywood is paying homage to the universally celebrated show.

On September 17, Warner Brothers will open a temporary “Central Perk” coffee shop in Manhattan—a replica of the fictional café made famous by the hit television show.

Earlier this month, Jimmy Kimmel performed a hilarious Friends parody on his late-night show with cast members Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow.

“It’s pretty easy to be forgotten in the entertainment industry, so I consider it a pleasure and an honor that things like this pop-up [coffee shop] are celebrating the 20th anniversary,” said Bright, who is now the founding director of Emerson College Los Angeles. “They’re all pretty important to me, and they feel great.”

The pop-up Central Perk will be located in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood and open seven days a week through October 18, according to a press release from Warner Brothers, which said the shop is sponsored by Eight O’Clock Coffee.

Central Perk

James Michael Taylor, the actor who played coffee shop worker Gunther on Friends, appears at the replica Central Perk shop in New York City this month. (Courtesy Photo)

The shop will serve free cups of the limited edition “Central Perk Roast,” and includes a special appearance by actor James Michael Tyler, the actor who played Gunther on the show. There will also be weekly in-store performances akin to character Phoebe’s improvised songs, including “Smelly Cat.”

“I think, for the most part, the fans are shouldering the celebration,” said Bright, adding that there’s no official reunion planned for the cast and crew.

Bright says the long-lasting legacy of Friends—which remains strong in syndication despite the season finale airing a decade ago—has to do with quality writing and storytelling.

“I believe good writing and universal stories always win out,” Bright said. “You can have gimmicks. You can dress up a show however you want. But it really comes down to good writing, universal stories, and a tremendous cast on screen.”


A promotional photo of the Friends cast from the mid 1990s. From left: actors Matthew Perry, Jennifer Anniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, and Lisa Kudrow. 

Bright said his favorite new TV shows are Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, and BoJack Horseman, which is produced by his nephew, Noel Bright.

“So that tradition continues,” he said, adding that he is catching up on 24, which he’s watching from the first season. He also watches Battlestar Galactica and The Strain, which he described as “guilty pleasure” shows.

“I’m catching up on a bunch of stuff I’ve missed because of my working,” he said.

Of course, Bright’s focus continues to be on Emerson Los Angeles, which steadily increased its number of students to 175 this semester.

“After a year…of getting the lay of the land, my main focus is to take the internship program to its maximum for the spring [2015] semester, which is 200 students,” he said. “I also want to make sure the experience in LA stays as satisfying as it has been and doesn’t get diluted at all. I’m working with faculty in Boston as well as my own staff to develop new and unique programming, and to create an even greater reason for students to come out to LA in the future.”

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