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20 Mind-Blowing Facts You Never Knew About Friends

One of the most telling anecdotes about Friends comes from a rather unlikely source: Barack Obama. Marta Kauffman once discussed a conversation she’d had with him, revealing that the President told her his daughters were only allowed to watch four hours of television a week; they frequently plump for Friends, and the Obama clan sit and watch it together, as a family. For the co-creator, it was the perfect tribute.

It was December 1993 when Kauffman and fellow writer and TV producer David Crane first pitched their idea for a new sitcom about that scary/exciting period of young adult life when your friends are your family. They could never have imagined that over twenty years later their show would still be talked about, written about and watched the world over.

Few shows have been enjoyed across such a wide demographic for such a long period of time, and Friends continues to find new fans to this day. Friends aired its first episode in September 1994, and has since earned over a billion dollars in syndication revenue as hundreds of millions of people found themselves engaged in the exploits of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe over a ten-year period.

Sporadic calls for a reunion have come to nothing, and in all likelihood thats for the best; the sitcom went out on a high few shows can boast, with 52.5 million U.S. viewers tuning in to watch The Final One. Since then there have been countless retrospectives, features and interviews across global media that unearthed plenty of recollections and little-known facts. Read on to find out more about The One Everyone Watched.

20. What’s In A Name?

NBC

When Kauffman and Crane were working on a sitcom idea for the NBC network, they knew they needed a public setting for parts of their show. With Cheers, which had just recently finished its eleven-season run on NBC, monopolising the bar as a locale and Seinfeld taking place in a diner, the writers were struggling until they happened on a coffee shop called Insomnia Café. They quickly realised they had found the perfect setting, even including the name on the seven-page treatment that secured them a pilot episode.

Insomnia Café wouldn’t be the last name floated for the show – Six Of One, Across The Hall, Once Upon A Time In The West Village and Friends Like Us were all under consideration at some point before Friends was settled upon.

19. Matthew Perry Came Up With The Same Idea

NBC

Kauffman and Crane weren’t the only ones writing a sitcom about the lives and loves of twenty-somethings – several rival shows were in development around the same period: Paul Rudd, who would go on to become a regular on Friends, headed up the cast of Wild Oats, which centred around a group of friends in Chicago and aired a few weeks beforehand; Living Single, about six friends living in a Brooklyn brownstone, had already been on screens for a year; and Pig Sty also focussed on flatmates in New York and premiered a few months after Friends.

Matthew Perry also threw his hat into the ring, tapping into his savings to write a TV comedy called Maxwells House about a group of attractive, caffeine-charged twenty-somethings taking their first steps in the real world. He even sold the pilot to Universal Television, having already been turned down by NBC for some reason.

18. David Schwimmer Had Vowed Never To Work In TV Again

NBC

David Schwimmer had auditioned for another pilot written by Crane and Kauffman, making enough of an impression to stick in their minds and become the chief source of inspiration for the character of Ross. What they didn’t know when it came to casting the role was that Schwimmer, burned by a bad experience on a short-lived series, had vowed never to work in TV again and was engaged in theatre work at the time. He specifically instructed his agents not to send him anything related to the medium, but calls from several industry insiders urged him to read the script and at least consider signing on.

On realising that the show was an ensemble piece with no real star, Schwimmer met with Crane and Kauffman, becoming the only actor to sign on for the show without even having to audition.

17. Courteney Cox Almost Lost Out To Another Actress

NBC

Thanks to an early appearance in a Bruce Springsteen music video and roles in the likes of Family Ties and Seinfeld, Courteney Cox was the closest thing to a star among the hundreds of people who auditioned for various roles. Nevertheless, her elevated status counted for nothing in the auditions and she very nearly lost out to another actress.

Nancy McKeon, who spent a number of years appearing on The Facts Of Life, impressed in her audition for the part of Monica, and then-NBC president Warren Littlefield has spoken of the decision being a tossup between the two actresses.

Crane, Kauffman and executive producer Kevin Bright took a stroll around the Warner Bros. studio lot to make their decision, eventually deciding that Cox brought something fresh to the role and might prove a better bet in the long run.

16. Matt LeBlanc Face-Planted His Way To Fame

NBC

Matt LeBlanc had already appeared in three TV series and numerous commercials when he got the script for the pilot episode, and an actor friend with whom he was practising his lines hit upon an idea to help him get in character. They decided to get into the spirit of the show by getting into spirits, spending a night on the tiles that resulted in LeBlanc falling over and skinning his nose.

When he showed up to read for the part with a scab on his face, Marta Kauffman asked him what happened, and LeBlanc’s story set the tone for the audition and helped him secure the coveted role.

15. Jon Cryer’s Audition Tape For The Role Of Chandler Arrived Too Late

Jordan Strauss/AP

Jon Cryer may have found fame playing the role of Alan on Two And A Half Men but, like hundreds of jobbing young actors at the time, entered the sweepstakes for a role on NBC€™s new show. Cryer was doing a play in London at the time and received a phone call at 3 a.m. asking if he would be interested in auditioning for the role of Chandler, but ultimately it wasn’t to be:

I went in and read with a British casting person; they took the tape and said they’d get it to L.A. So I went home, and a few days later was told the tape didn’t get there in time for the network executives to see.

14. The Role Of Chandler Was Offered To Someone Else

Lifetime

The show’s creators and casting crew always thought that the role of Chandler, the sardonic, wise-cracking cynic of the group, would be the easiest one to fill, but in reality it was anything but. Matthew Perry was one of the first names under consideration, but at the time he was shooting another pilot for a show called LAX 2194.

Had the high-concept idea of baggage handlers in charge of sorting alien luggage gone ahead, Perry wouldn’t have been available for Friends, and he even coached his friend Craig Bierko to help him prepare for his own audition.

Perry did such a good job that Bierko was offered the part but turned it down. The Friends brain trust ended up casting Perry anyway in the belief that LAX 2194 would not be picked up, and it wasn’t the only gamble they took when deciding on their final cast.

13. Jennifer Aniston Wasn’t Even Available

NBC

The part of Rachel proved the hardest one to cast. The role was first offered to Courteney Cox, who turned it down in favour of playing Monica, and Jami Gertz also received an offer. When she also turned it down, the producers decided on a risky strategy that could easily have been the show’s undoing.

Jennifer Aniston’s audition for Rachel was well received but she had recently filmed ten episodes of a rival sitcom called Muddling Through for CBS. The rival network had her under contract if they decided to go ahead with further episodes, and NBCs decision to film several episodes with Aniston as a fixed part of the cast could have cost them millions of dollars had Muddling Through found an audience.

12. Lisa Kudrow Thought She Was Going To Get Fired

NBC

Legendary TV director James Burrows, who directed 237 episodes of Cheers, helped launch the Frasier spinoff and also worked on Taxi, was enlisted to direct the pilot episode of Friends, which was good news for all concerned – except Lisa Kudrow.

Although it has been reported that Ellen DeGeneres was offered the role of Phoebe, casting director Lori Openden has commented that Kudrow owned the role from the start. However, Kudrow was also the first choice to play Roz in Frasier before being replaced during rehearsals, and the actress feared that Burrows involvement would prove her undoing.

These fears proved unfounded when she was handed the role, but Kudrow’s early experiences on set led her to believe history was about to repeat itself. Burrows wondered out loud why the other characters would be friends with the quirky Phoebe and was concerned that she might interfere with the group dynamic.

Kudrow was made to sweat for several days of experimental rehearsals before it became clear that her character would be staying put.

11. The Cast Went To Vegas To Enjoy Their Last Moments Of Anonymity

NBC

James Burrows was one of the first people to recognise that they might just have a huge hit on their hands, convincing the head of Warner Bros. to make a private plane available so that he could organise a special treat for the cast. He flew the six new cast mates to Las Vegas, screening the pilot for them on the plane ride, and took them out for dinner at Caesars Palace.

Burrows told them all to look around and enjoy their last moments as unknowns, promising: The six of you will never be able to do this again. His instincts proved correct, but not everyone felt the same way.

10. The Pilot Didn’t Test Well

NBC

The show’s pilot eschewed the traditional TV approach of having a main A plot with a secondary B plot behind it, opting instead to give three stories equal footing and introduce a new format. It was far from an unqualified success.

After submitting their first edit, Crane and Kauffman were told that the show’s talky opening scene was too slow, but they got around this criticism by adding a title sequence featuring R.E.M.s upbeat Shiny Happy People. Still, when the pilot was screened for a test audience, they returned a verdict of high weak – far from a ringing endorsement – and rumours started to circulate that the prized Thursday evening slot the producers were angling for would not be on offer.

NBC eventually elected to run Friends in the coveted 8.30 p.m. slot, but that in itself was no guarantee of success.

9. Friends Wasn’t An Instant Hit

NBC

The first episode aired in the U.S. on September 22, 1994. Sandwiched between the popular Mad About You and ratings juggernaut Seinfeld, Friends pulled in 22 million viewers and was the fifteenth-most-watched TV show that week, but its long-term future remained in jeopardy. Viewing figures for the following episodes dipped as the showrunners struggled to establish the show’s identity and develop each character, and by the end of first season the show was a moderate – if unspectacular – success.

Fortunately, the following summer saw theme song I’ll Be There For You explode onto the charts, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. for eight weeks and bringing a host of new fans to the show to send rerun figures through the roof. The Rembrandts’ song kick-started a global phenomenon that would dominate the TV landscape for almost a decade.

8. They Went Out Of Their Way To Not Publicise The Show

wikipedia

When Friends became a global smash hit, the cast soon realised that Burrow’s prediction that they would soon find it impossible go unnoticed in public was actually an understatement. Matt LeBlanc had to move out of his apartment block when he became famous and David Schwimmer has described his girlfriend at the time literally being pushed out of the way by a group of female fans.

The actors soon found their faces gracing the covers of Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone and numerous other publications, and the demand was such that NBC started refusing press opportunities for fear of overexposure.

A Diet Coke commercial featuring the cast proved a low point that prompted a cutback on publicity before a potentially damaging backlash could gather momentum.

7. The Actors Weren’t All Paid The Same (At First)

NBC

It is often reported that the six principal cast members were paid equally throughout the show’s duration and all received $22,500 for each episode in the early days. In fact, this wasn€™’t the case, as David Schwimmer has spoken of the different contracts signed by each cast member and how he felt this was unfair given that Friends was an ensemble piece in which every actor was equally important.

Schwimmer’s agents had originally negotiated an extra $2,500 a week for the actor when it became clear how much NBC wanted their client to play Ross, and when the show became a huge success he was advised to ask for a raise. Schwimmer’s mother was a prominent divorce attorney and suggested that the cast renegotiate their contracts as a group, which chimed with her sons own feelings and experiences in ensemble theatre.

Despite being in a stronger position than some of his cast mates due to the central focus of the relationship between Ross and Rachel, Schwimmer floated the idea of negotiating as a group  a tactic that would see them become the highest-paid actors in TV history.

6. It Almost Finished Halfway Through

NBC

By banding together and presenting a united front, the cast of Friends would see their salaries rise to $75,000 per episode for Season 3. Their paymasters recognised just how crucial the actors chemistry was to the show’s success and acquiesced to early demands for substantial pay increases, but negotiations hit an impasse ahead of Season 5.

It became public knowledge that the cast was demanding $100,000 each per episode when the press started reporting on the contract wrangles, and Harold Brook, who was executive vice president of business affairs at the time, has described how close the show came to ending then and there:

The night before we were going to announce the schedule, I was in the bathroom at a restaurant and got a call from Warner Bros. It’s starting, they said. The negotiation started around 10 p.m. and closed around 3 a.m. We had two promos made – one was the season finale, and one was the series finale.

Ultimately, the actors demands were met, and the final two seasons of Friends would see their salaries rise to a whopping million dollars per episode.

5. Jennifer Aniston Hated ‘The Rachel’

NBC

A couple of decades ago, women across the world made appointments with their hairdressers to request a certain layered look that became an overnight sensation. The Rachel was created by Chris McMillan, who has since admitted to being stoned when he came up with the unique look that was a popular fashion fad when Friends was at its peak.

Nevertheless, while plenty of women were obviously fans of the distinct look, Jennifer Aniston wasn’t one of them:

How do I say this? I think it was the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen. What I really want to know is, how did that thing have legs? Let’s just say I’m not a fan of short, layered cuts on me personally, so I don’t love revisiting that particular era.

4. Bruce Willis Appeared On The Show For Free

NBC

Matthew Perry’s battles with alcoholism and prescription drug addiction in his time on the show have been well documented, but it turns out he was also prone to the occasional flutter. Back in 1999, Perry found himself heading up the cast of The Whole Nine Yards, a comedy about a dentist who finds himself living next door to a mobster.

Said hit-man was played by Bruce Willis, and Perry made a bet with his fellow actor that the film would top the charts when it was released and make more money than any other movie on its opening weekend. Perry won.

Willis was already being lined up for a guest spot on Friends, and after losing the bet he agreed to appear on the show for free, with his fee donated to a charity of Perry’s choosing.

3. Monica And Chandler’s Relationship Extended The Show’s Shelf Life

NBC

Much as the will they, wont they? between Ross and Rachel may have dominated the early seasons of Friends, a different relationship took centre stage after that. Chandler and Monica wound up in bed together when the gang travelled to England for Ross’ ill-fated wedding, but there were no long-term plans in place for their relationship to develop beyond that.

Scott Silveri worked as a writer and producer on the show for many years, and he has revealed that discussions about whether or not it was a viable relationship took place when the writers returned to map out Season 5.

The largely positive fan reaction to the unexpected hook-up and the chemistry between Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox pushed the relationship and show forward, and Silveri believes Friends might have finished a few years earlier had they not taken that chance.

2. David Schwimmer Directed Ten Episodes

NBC

Like all his fellow cast members, David Schwimmer found Friends to be a dream job for the most part, but he has spoken of his occasional frustration at being confined to the same role for so long instead of having the opportunity to challenge himself with something different. After Schwimmer graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago, he founded the Lookingglass Theatre Company with a group of friends in 1988 and developed a taste for directing.

However, when Friends became a hit he found himself unable to pursue this passion, but fortunately he was given the opportunity to learn more about the craft by directing some of the episodes himself. Schwimmer directed his first episode in Season 6 and went on to direct ten in total, even assuming directing duties for a couple of episodes of short-lived spinoff Joey.

He also has film credits to his name in the shape of Trust and Run, Fatboy, Run, and you can expect to see more from him in the future:

I love the collaborative nature of directing. The vision is coming from you, but youre incorporating talents and ideas from all these people. As an actor theres a great freedom, but the experience is much more isolated.

1. The Show’s End Made Matt LeBlanc Take Up Smoking Again

NBC

All good things must come to an end, and as the final episode approached the realisation also dawned on the cast that ten years spent together were also drawing to a close. As such, it’s understandable that several of the actors have spoken of their emotions getting the better of them in the final days. Jennifer Aniston has admitted being terrified about the show finishing, David Schwimmer almost broke down in their final pre-show group huddle, and Matt LeBlanc’s willpower deserted him:

I had quit smoking for four years, and in that final two weeks I started smoking again because we were so aware that our time together was coming to an end. Yes, I’ll talk to you. Yes, I’ll always know you, but I wont know you like this. I wont see you every day, all day. Eat lunch together every day. To have this awesome, awesome experience every week. It’s coming to an end.

 

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