COFFEE GROUNDS Here's what we know about the ''Friends'' finale, scheduled for May 6: It'll be a one-hour episode, preceded by an hour-long retrospective and followed by a ''Tonight Show'' episode broadcast from the Central Perk stage set on the Warner Bros. lot. Members of the TV Critics Association got to pay their final visit to the ''Friends'' set on Tuesday and talk to the six stars, who appeared on-edge emotionally about taping the finale next week. ''We're like very delicate china right now,'' Jennifer Aniston said. ''We're speeding toward a brick wall. Inevitable pain. That sounds like fun, huh?''
Lisa Kudrow continued with the china metaphor. ''We're going to smash into a million pieces,'' she said. ''It's a deeper loss than I was expecting. It kind of hit me over the head.'' Chimed in Matt LeBlanc, ''We all kind of look around and realize we took for granted how much time we spend together.''
Series co-creator Marta Kauffman said she and the other writers took inspiration for the finale from classic sitcom wrap-ups of the past -- ''The Larry Sanders Show,'' ''Newhart,'' and especially ''The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'' Details of the plot are being kept secret, of course; key scenes in next Friday's taping will not be performed before a studio audience in order to avoid leaks of plot spoilers. David Schwimmer did say about the concluding storyline that ''it's exactly what I had hoped. We all end with a sense of a new beginning, and the audience has a sense that it's a new chapter for all of the characters in their lives and it's a positive one.''
Aside from LeBlanc, who'll continue to play Joey Tribbiani in a spinoff next year, the actors sounded ready to leave behind series television work. ''I think it's good timing for me because I'll have something to put my focus on,'' said Courteney Cox, who's expecting her first child. ''We've been given this great gift here where we don't have to do crappy movies,'' Matthew Perry said. ''We could do something we like.''
One thing the sextet will not be doing anytime soon, British tabloid reports to the contrary, is getting back together for a reunion special. The group shot down reports that said the Friends would reunite as soon as November for a where-are-they-now special, for which NBC would supposedly pay them $2 million apiece. ''A reunion? We haven't even left yet. Don't you need to be away a lot longer?'' said Aniston, who, along with the others, joked that it would take more like $4 million apiece to bring them back together so soon. ''I'm here to offer them $4 million,'' said NBC programming chief Jeff Zucker. ''I don't know,'' replied Cox. ''Maybe.''
NOT GETTING 'ALONG' It's been an especially emotional week for Aniston, who followed Monday's script read-through of the finale with the Hollywood premiere of her new movie, ''Along Came Polly.'' (All the Friends except Cox came along to the screening, USA Today reports.) She called the reading ''heartbreaking. We all cried.'' Offering some perspective was Aniston pal Melissa Etheridge, who told the paper, ''Poor Jen's so ripped up about it. She cries at the drop of a hat.''
Also preceding Friday's opening of ''Polly'' will be an interview on ABC's ''Primetime Thursday,'' in which Aniston discusses her continuing estrangement from her mom, Nancy. In a recent Vogue magazine interview, Aniston said that the end of ''Friends'' and her plans to start a family had prompted her to try to reconcile with her mother, to whom she stopped speaking five years ago after Nancy blabbed to the media and wrote a tell-all memoir. But now, Aniston tells ''Primetime,'' it's not so easy. ''I've definitely tried, I made the efforts, and I've sort of started... you know, it's that stubborn thing of, 'Well, I tried... I tried enough. Now it's your turn.''' She acknowledges that her mother might have acted more out of carelessness than malice. ''She made a mistake,'' Aniston says. ''I don't think she knew any better, obviously.'' Still, she says, referring to her marriage to Brad Pitt four years ago, ''I never thought my mom would not know my husband.'' Hey, at least she probably has a pretty good idea of what he looks like.