In 2017, Superfly X hosted a San Francisco comedy festival that featured Jerry Seinfeld. They rebuilt the “Seinfeld” apartment set there and fans had a ball taking selfies.
As a result, they wanted to create a stand-alone “experience” based on a TV show. The programs that generated the most minutes viewed on Netflix in 2018 were “The Office,” followed by “Friends.”
Mayers already had a good working relationship with WarnerMedia, which owned the licensing rights to “Friends.” So Superfly X chose “Friends” as its first experience in 2019, building out replica sets in a space in New York City, where the show is fictionally based.
“That was the 25th anniversary of the start of the show,” Mayers said. “We blew out tickets like right away. Seven days a week, 30 days, we sold out every time slot.”
Mayers wasn’t sure if this was just a New York phenomenon so Superfly X tried it in Boston. Same result: sellouts across the board. “That’s when we knew we had something special,” he said.
Atlanta is the second post-pandemic stop for the experience, after Chicago. Advance sales, he said, have been solid.
The opening day crowd had a smattering of couples and families but was heavily female, with no shortage of actual friends bonding over “Friends.”
Many eagerly traveled from other states to get photos of themselves pretending to use a giant poking device made of chopsticks to rouse Ugly Naked Guy from Monica’s patio or moving a couch where Ross maniacally yells “Pivot!” over and over again. The primary job for many employees was to simply grab smartphones and snap copious pictures.
Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Tracy Pate, a Columbus resident who is in the middle of a second binge of all 236 “Friends” episodes now streaming on HBO Max, saw an ad for the experience on Facebook and nabbed tickets for opening day. She brought along her best friend Danyeil and their respective 20-year-old daughters, who represent a new generation of fans of the show.
Kayte McAlexander and Tara Grier, both 35 and living in Buford, have been best friends since the fall of 1994, the year the show debuted. They both wore special shirts embossed with the words “Best Friends Since ‘The One Where It All Began,’” the title of the first episode, to the experience.
“I didn’t fully appreciate the show until I was an adult,” said McAlexander, who owns all 10 seasons on DVD. “It’s way funnier to watch it now. I get the jokes more.”
While 20-year-old Catherine Xie, a Georgia Tech rising sophomore, was in middle school, a teacher in China recommended she watch “Friends” to learn English. She said it didn’t help her English that much but she did laugh a lot.
Linley Allred, a 45-year-old magazine production manager, took the three-hour drive from Jasper, Alabama, with her college best friend Ashley Hester, also 45. Just the excuse to hang out with her friend made the experience worthwhile, she said.
Allred donned a shirt with the word “Unagi,” referencing an episode where Ross tries to teach Rachel martial arts.
“I tell my daughter all the time that this or that reminds me of a ‘Friends’ episode,” Allred said. “She gets annoyed and says, ‘Not everything is connected to “Friends”!’ But it is!”
More than 60 people have held wedding proposals at various experiences so far, Allred said.
“That’s the emotional connection fans have with the show,” he said. “It represents a time in people’s lives when friends are your family before your professional life really takes off or you settle down. It has this idyllic feeling about it and people are nostalgic for that.”
Mayers said it didn’t hurt that HBO Max recently released the much ballyhooed reunion of the six original cast members: “Getting the tailwind of that buzz was a shot in the arm.”
They now have a permanent flagship “Friends” experience in Manhattan, which opened in March. Mayers also hopes to create comparable “Friends” experiences overseas with plans to go to Australia first. And they are designing their next experience based on “The Office,” another sitcom boosted by streaming.
“This type of experience is different from music festivals,” he said. “And we can still operate when it rains.”
“The Friends Experience”
Noon-10 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays and Labor Day. Through Sept. 6. $32.50-$39.50. 1155 Mount Vernon Highway NE, Suite 150, Sandy Springs. friendstheexperience.com