LOS ANGELES, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The cast of "Friends" has come to terms with producers of the long-running comedy on a deal to return for a ninth -- and apparently final -- season on NBC, according to a statement issued by the actors, Warner Bros. Television, Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions and NBC brass.
The show has been a ratings winner for NBC since Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross first started hanging out at their New York apartments and the Central Perk coffee shop in 1994.
"We are enormously pleased and excited to be returning for a ninth season," said Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer in the statement. "We could not ignore the outpouring of public support for the show and we are looking forward to creating one more season with the best writers, producers, directors and production people in television."
NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa called the return of "Friends" for a ninth season "a wonderful event for everyone ... the fans, NBC, Warner Bros., the producers and the cast."
The network's entertainment president, Jeff Zucker, laid on even more enthusiasm about the return of one of the top-rated shows of the past eight seasons.
"It's no secret how important 'Friends' is to NBC," said Zucker. "But what's truly great is how important this program is to the entire country, and that the millions of fans will be able to watch the series continue for another full year. This is a great day."
Zucker said all parties to the negotiation shared the same objective. He called it "the easiest deal" the network ever made for the show.
"Everyone wanted it to work out," he said, "because everyone wanted to be able to send the series out appropriately ... and in style."
Series creators and executive producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane said in the statement that they intend for the final season to wrap up the storyline and "send our characters out into the world."
"Friends" is currently the No. 1 primetime series for the 2001-02 season among adults 18-49, total viewers and households, with ratings up 13 percent among adults 18-49, 17 percent among total viewers and 13 percent in households.
The show has collected 33 Emmy nominations, including four for outstanding comedy series. The cast won a Screen Actors Guild Award in 1996 for outstanding ensemble performance in a comedy series and has been nominated four times for a Golden Globe Award for best musical or comedy TV series.
"Friends" won the People's Choice Award for favorite new comedy series in its first season, and has gone on to win three times for favorite comedy series.