“Friends” co-creator Marta Kaufman closes in on a comeback with big ABC deal

It pays to have friends, as Marta Kaufman, co-creator of NBC’s decade-long mega-hit “Friends” can attest – especially if their last names are Silverman and Spielberg.

After a long hiatus from high profile success, Kaufman may be close to getting back on top. According to Deadline.com’s Nellie Andreeva, Kaufman got a whopping 7-figure commitment to develop two projects for ABC; Red Band Society, a hospital drama, and The Avalon, a musical show set at a cabaret. Steven Spielberg reportedly liked the concept for Red Band Society because Dreamworks TV signed on to co-executive produce. And Ben Silverman, CEO of Electus and producer of “The Office” is co-executive producing The Avalon, which is based on a popular Asian format, The Kitchen Musical. Andreeva wrote that it is being described as “a ménage à trois of sensual food, sexy performances, and adult drama” and that “the setting is reminiscent of the Moulin Rouge.”

This news represents a big change for Kaufman, who has privately struggled with what to do next. After the immense success of “Friends” Kaufman worried she couldn’t replicate that the scale of that achievement. In an interview in 2009, she described the transition as a kind of identity crisis that led her to channel her passion into more personal projects. “[Y]ou don’t know, when you’re going to change your identity, if it’s going to work,” she told me. But in reality, changing her career identity meant digging in deeper to her Jewish identity. She partnered with filmmaker Roberta Grossman to produce a series of Jewish-themed documentaries. The first, “Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” was about the WWII resistance fighter who was tortured and killed after a failed mission to rescue Hungarian Jews from death camps; next, came “Hava Nagila: What is it?” about the classic Jewish ditty and its complex history (the movie is currently in post-production and has not yet been released). 

The high-profile ABC projects and the prestigious partnerships involved sound promising, plus, Kaufman will return to her roots as a scribe since she is working on scripts for both. But of course, without a completed pilot, Kaufman is a long way from knowing whether either of these projects will re-invigorate what was once an enviable career.