Stylist’s favourite facts from a brand new book about the show.
The One That Never Really Goes Away is probably the best descriptor of Friends, the programme that refuses to leave our screens even 25 years after a drenched Rachel Green first ran into Central Perk and the lives of millions of viewers around the world.
I grew up with Friends. You probably did too. Whether it was catching the tail-end of its original run (the gang said goodbye for good in 2004. We’re not going to talk about Joey) or being one of many viewers who were introduced the world of six attractive twenty-somethings with a penchant for coffee and irrational behaviour through regular repeats (UK ratings for Friends reruns went up by 10% in 2016), you’ve almost certainly caught at least one episode.
In fact, almost three decades on since the premiere, Friends continues to experience enduring popularity. When Netflix announced the show was finally available to stream last December, a whole new generation discovered the exploits of Monica, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe and Joey, with mixed reactions. Turns out inclusions that were considered progressive in 1994, like a lesbian couple, sit rather less comfortably in the cold light of 2018. But nevertheless, most of us have a soft spot for the show. It’s… well, a friend.
But that didn’t just happen by accident. Behind the iconic scenes was a whole lot of hard work that went into making the sitcom perpetually popular (it was named the UK’s favourite streaming show just three months ago).
Now a new book by writer Kelsey Miller offers the most in-depth look yet at the mechanics driving the Friends behemoth. I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends is pages of pure Friends facts. And they don’t disappoint, even for fair weather fans.
Here’s our favourite five new learnings about the show that will never die…
Matt LeBlanc had to ask for Joey’s behaviour to be toned down
The “Joey Problem” as Miller dubs it, was that the first iteration of Joey Tribbiani was a letch. He was characterised to relentlessly hit on the women around him – even the ones that were supposed to be his friends.
As Miller tells it, LeBlanc was the first to recognise the problem – ie. that Joey was a creep and audiences would soon turn off him – and approached the creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane to propose a new direction, asking them to alter Joey’s character so he would “[think] of [the] girls as little sisters and want to go to bed with every other girl but these three.”
As well as making Joey into a more likeable figure, this change also led to the jettisoning of a proposed relationship between him and Monica, initially proposed because they seemed the ‘most sexual’.
A whole storyline had to be reshot because of 9/11
In a tragically prescient storyline, an episode shot to air on 11 October 2001 – just a month after 9/11 – showed Chandler and Monica trying to make their honeymoon flight. Noticing a sign that says “Federal law prohibits any joking regarding aircraft hijacking or bombing,” Chandler turns to a nearby security guard and says “You don’t have to worry about me, ma’am. I take my bombs very seriously.”
His comment then leads to both he and Monica being detained and questioned, during which he proceeds to say the word ‘bomb’ about “two hundred times,” by Miller’s count. In a post 9/11 world, the joke would have gone down like a lead balloon. Instead, they reshot the entire sub-plot.
And although there was no outward reference to 9/11, Miller notes that the writers decided to litter the episodes with “visual cues” that nodded to the disaster, with the actors wearing shirts bearing slogans like “United We Stand,” and “FDNY [Fire Department of the City of New York]”. And the whiteboard on Joey’s apartment door (apparently a Magna Doodle) also bore scribblings of loaded symbols like the US flag and the Statue of Liberty.
A TV exec wanted Monica punished for having casual sex
One of the most shocking anecdotes is about Monica’s first season entanglement with the infamous Paul the Wine Guy, the man who tells her he’s been unable to have sex with a woman since his wife abandoned him. Monica ends up sleeping with him but discovers the next day it was all a lie to coax her into bed.
The story was opposed by then-NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer, who remarked “Well, what does that say about her [Monica]? Doesn’t that say she’s a whore?”
Eventually, he permitted the scenes to run but only because Monica was “punished”, as Miller puts it, by her transgression.
“She got what she deserved,” Ohlmeyer said.
Even after green-lighting the idea, he still required Kauffman and Crane to survey test audiences on what they thought about Monica having unmarried sex, in the hopes viewers would dislike seeing a woman exercise sexual freedom and given him an excuse to cut the scene. Unsurprisingly – it was 1994 – audiences did not care. In fact, they were big fans of Monica. And the story stayed.
The show almost ended twice before 2004
Ahead of season seven, the cast’s contracts were up for renewal. After season three, all the actors had made a pact that they would negotiate as a team, recognising that they had fair more bargaining power if they did so. Plus, they were all actually friends, a bond they’d made efforts to form early on realising it would make the show far more likely to succeed if they got on offscreen too.
And so they asked for $1 million per episode and a wider share of the ‘back-end profits’ – meaning the syndication deals, re-runs etc that came after the initial airing. In return NBC offered $700,000, which was swiftly rejected. Discussions dragged on until three days before NBC were going to announce their autumn schedule. The network sent the cast a final offer of $750,000 each and cut threatening promos that billed the upcoming season six finale as a chance for fans to “See how it all ends,”.
It worked – the cast accepted the deal.
The second potential premature end was in 2002, when everyone – cast and crew included – presumed that the ninth season would be the final one. Instead, NBC president Jeff Zucker decided at the last minute to offer the obscene amount of money that it would take to keep Friends running – a cool $10 million. And although the cast were a little reluctant, having by now built successful careers outside of the show and starting to wish their wings weren’t quite so clipped, they eventually agreed. So we got to see if Rachel got off the plane. And Ross’s horrible spray tan.
It was Courtney Cox who brought all the Friends together
Just as Monica was the lynchpin of the group (“I’m always the hostess”), Courteney Cox is credited with being the glue that initially bound the gang together.
As Lisa Kudrow tells Miller, on day three of shooting the first season, Cox gathered her castmates in a huddle and told them that if they wanted Friends to work, they had to break one of the first rules of acting.
“Normally there’s a code with actors,” says Kudrow. “We don’t give each other notes under any circumstances and we don’t comment on each other’s performances.”
“Courteney said ‘Look, I did a guest star on Seinfeld… one of the reasons the show’s so great is they all help each other out. If you’ve got something you think is funny for me to do, I’m gonna do it. We’ve got to all help each other. She was the one who set the tone and made us a real group.”
And from then on, it was history.
I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller is out now.