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25 Stories from the Set of Friends, In Their Own Words

With Friends finally up in its entirety on Netflix and coming off the 20th anniversary of its first episode, we have been inundated with lots of new retrospectives and interviews with cast, crew, and former NBC suits. As such, this seems like the perfect time to look back at some stories and bits of trivia from the show, but instead of doing it the normal way I’m going to mostly let them tell the story, pulling quotes from Vulture’s interview with executive producer Scott Silveri and Warren Littlefield’s book Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. Just so it’s clear, every single quote from Silveri comes from Vulture, everything else from Littlefield’s book.

25. It Was Originally Sold To Fox

FoxDavid Crane (Co-Creator): We pitched Friends to Fox and sold it to Fox, and then we pitched it to NBC. Then there was some finagling, and somehow we were doing it at NBC.

Warren Littlefield (NBC President): Les Moonves, who was president of Warner Bros. TV at the time, said you have to make a pilot commitment, not a script. What this meant financially was that if I got the script and wanted to get out of the commitment, it would cost me $250,000.

As part of the compromise, David Crane and Marta Kauffman developed a different show for Fox, a high school drama called Reality Check, which ultimately never made it to air.

24. Craig Bierko Could Have Been Chandler

Sour Grapes
Steven Weber and Craig Bierko in Larry David’s 1998 film Sour Grapes, which, oddly enough, features a Matthew Perry-like character who was an actor in an obvious Friends clone

Marta Kauffman (Co-Creator): One of the first actors on our list was Matthew Perry to play Chandler, but he was doing a show called LAX 2194 about baggage handlers in the future, so he wasn’t available. We brought other people in […] The person who came closest was Craig Bierko, and we found out later that Matthew had coached him.

Lori Openden (NBC’s Head of Casting): The producers wanted to go with Craig Bierko instead of Matthew Perry for Chandler. Bierko read the script and passed.

Warren: Thank God!

Karey Burke (NBC’s Executive VP of Prime-Time Programming): We kind of talked Craig Bierko out of being in Friends. Ultimately, he made his own decision, sort of. He took another pilot where he could be the lead and the only star.

Kauffman: We took Matthew in second position.

23. Nancy McKeon Could Have Been Monica

McKeonCourtney Cox was originally offered the part of Rachel, but turned it down and asked them to instead consider her for the role of Monica. She had some serious competition.

Openden: Nancy McKeon from Facts of Life also read for Courtney’s part. She gave a terrific performance. Warren let Mart and David make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courtney.

But why?

Kauffman: Because we were doing an ensemble there was something very appealing about not using someone as known as Nancy McKeon.

Yet neither McKeon nor Cox actually read the part the way the writers had envisioned it:

Crane: When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane Garofalo’s voice in our head, darker, edgier, and snarkier. Courtney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it.

22. Jami Gertz Could Have Been Rachel

Jami Gertz Lost Boys
She’s the Lost Boys girlfriend you had a crush on.

Crane: An exec at NBC called to say she’d offered the part of Rachel to Jami Gertz. We didn’t have a Rachel, and Jami Gertz is a really talented actress, but not Rachel. So we held our breath for 24 hours until she passed.

21. Jennifer Aniston Wasn’t Technically Availablejennifer_aniston_jennifer_aniston_muddling_through_2_G5TUUk4.sizedNBC already knew Aniston from her time playing the sister on the Ferris Bueller TV show, and they desperately wanted her back even though she was already spoken for.

Kauffman: Jennifer came in, and she was in a show that was on the air-Muddling Through.

Crane: We had a meeting with the guy who created Muddling Through and asked him if he’d let her go.

Openden: We auditioned other actors for Jennifer’s part, but nobody else was good enough. It was a pretty big risk. Her show was a comedy for CBS. They’d shot eight episodes and had them on the shelf for six months. They still had the rights to air it.

Jamie Tarses (NBC’s VP of Comedy Development): Then we had Jennifer Aniston crying to Les Moonves to let her out of the CBS show she was on.

Preston Beckman (NBC’s Scheduler): I put Danielle Steele movies on opposite the Jennifer Aniston show on CBS. I killed it.

After they shot the pilot, CBS still hadn’t canceled Muddling Through. That would normally mean they’d have to re-cast the role, but Warren Littlefield decided to move forward with Aniston as Rachel even though they’d have to re-shoot all of her scenes across multiple episodes with a new actress if CBS called her back.

20. Matt LeBlanc’s Skinned Nose Helped Him Get the Role of Joey

Leblanc Red Shoe Diaries
Yes, he had previously done two Red Shoes Diaries episodes

Joey was not originally written as a particularly stupid character.  That changed after they cast Matt LeBlanc because he plays dumb well, but also that’s the frame of mind you’re put into when you first meet him after he’s…well, I’ll let him tell it:

LeBlanc: I was practicing lines with an actor friend of mine, and he said, “This show is about a group of friends, so we should go out tonight and get drunk, as though we were friends. We should just keep that in mind.” So we went out, and I fell down and skinned my nose really badly. I went to the audition, with this huge scab on my face, and Marta said, “What happened to your face?” I said, “Aw, it’s a long story.” She thought it was funny and laughed, and that kind of set the tone for the room.”

19. David Schwimmer Didn’t Have to Audition, But He Still Didn’t Want to Do It

David Schwimmer in Monty with Henry Wrinkler. They only made 6 episodes.

Marta Kauffman and David Crane had previously auditioned David Schwimmer for a pilot, Couples, which ultimately didn’t make it to air. They remembered Schwimmer so clearly that they offered him the part of Ross in Friends without an audition. The problem was Schwimmer no longer wanted anything to do with TV, having sworn it off after nobody he worked with on the short-lived Henry Wrinkler sitcom Monty listened to any of his ideas. He wanted a collaborative, creative experience; they just wanted him to shut up and say his damn lines. So, he ran back to his theater company in Chicago, and told his agent not to send him anything. She ignored that, and demanded he read the Friends script. He liked it, but he still wasn’t going to do it until two random phone calls came his way:

Scwhimmer: I got a phone call from Robby Benson in Chicago, who is friends with Marta and David. I was a huge fan of Robby Benson, and I had never met him. Out of the blue, I get this phone call from him. He said, “Look, I really think you should consider this. At least go and meet with Marta and David and talk about it.” And then Jim Burrows, who had directed every episode of Cheers and nearly episode of Taxi, called. Jim is my idol. I just think the world of him. To have these two people call, and then to understand, which I didn’t realize at first, that they had written Ross with my voice in mind was hugely flattering. I thought, “I’d be an idiot not to go.”

18. We Have Pontius Pilot to Thank for Ross’ Early, Ultra-Short Hair

8981923.tScwhimmer: I was in Chicago doing a play with my company. We were doing The Master and Margarita-this book we had adapted-and we had just opened Steppenwolf’s new studio space with this play. I was playing Pontious Pilate with a very short Roman haircut, which is why Ross eventually had this haircut.

17. Lisa Kudrow Was Terrified They Were Going to Fire Her

James Burrows had fired Lisa Kudrow from Frasier, where she was the original actress cast to play Roz

Kudrow: I was terrified that first week. It was James Burrows again. He was collaborate and inclusive of the cast. So, he would say, “Why are they friends with her?” Meaning me. “We have to figure that out. She doesn’t fit.” At one point he thought it would be funny if I deliver my monologue under the table. They’re all sitting around the table. Rachel is about to cut up her credit cards. Instead of being with them, I’m under the table, because I’m “quirky.” I thought, “This is the run-through where Marta and David are going to say, ‘This character doesn’t work. We have to rethink it. She’s just not part of the group.’ Thank God, they simply said, “Um, Lisa, not that it’s a bad choice, but I don’t think that’s a good spot for you under the table.” I didn’t know how to answer that. I would never have put myself under the table. Jimmy said, “No, that was me. We were just trying something.”

16. They Broke the Actor’s Code and Regularly Gave Notes to Each other

Funny-friends-6573094-600-383Kudrow: Actors don’t give each other notes under any circumstances. But during the first week Courtney Cox told us, “Listen, I just did Seinfeld, and they all help each other. They say, ‘Try this’ and ‘This would be funny.’ So, guys, feel free to tell me if I could do anything funnier because I want to do it.” She was giving us permission to give her notes, and we all agreed that would be great. She was the one who set that tone and made it a real group that way.

15. They Almost Called It Six of One

Wild Oats, with Paul Rudd, was the real buzzy show of the moment, centering around a group of lovable 20-somethings in Chicago

Karey Burke: Six of One was the name of the show during the pilot. Then Kauffman and Crane came back with Friends, which we thought was such a snore. Some people thought the show was too Gen X, way too narrow. There was more buzz about Fox’s version of the same concept, a show called Wild Oats with Paul Rudd.

14. NBC Actually Had a Good Note/Suggestion 

It was Warren Littlefield’s idea to have Monica and Rachel live across the hall from Chandler and Joey.

Women to party
This joke may never have been possible if not for Warren Littlefield

Crane: Warren also suggested we actually call it Across the Hall, which we did not do. Once we got into making the show, I don’t think we’d realized how important having them across the hall would be. We just hadn’t done that much four-camera television.

NBC also wanted them to add an older character, specifically a male owner of the coffeehouse:  

Crane: We tried a pass at this character, but it was like you’re writing, you’re going, “Hate myself, hate myself, hate myself.” We ended up bringing in the parents as recurring characters instead.

13. They Became Real Life Friends Because They All Thought That Would Help the Show in the Long Run

It was so much easier to make it through these chummy photoshoots if they didn’t have to fake it 

Kudrow: When we started shooting that first season, Jimmy said, “Use my dressing room to hang out.” Because it was bigger. We would all hang out playing poker and bonding because I think we all understood that the point of the show was that we were family and best friends. We needed to hang out, get to know each other, and bond as quickly as possible, because that’s the only way that the show was going to work.

12. David Schwimmer Or His Mom Or Both Convinced The Cast To Negotiate Togetherbarracuda_aluminum_license_plateSchwimmer: I knew because we were all friends-that when we started, each of us on the show had a different contract. So I knew I wasn’t the highest-paid actor on the show, but I wasn’t the lowest. After the first season, I thought, “I’m being advised to go in for more money. But for me, it goes against everything I truly believe in, in terms of an ensemble.” So I said to the group, “Here’s the deal. I’m being advised to ask for more money, but I think instead of that we should all go in together. There’s this expectation that I’m going in to ask for a pay raise. I think we use this opportunity to talk openly about the six of us being paid the same.”

John Agoglia (NBC’s Head of Business Affairs): At one point David Schwimmer’s mother convinced the cast to negotiate as a group. She’s a prominent divorce attorney. Her license plate is “Ex Barracuda.”

11. Tom Selleck Was Only Supposed To Be in One Or Two Episodes

2971-tom-selleckScott Silveri (Friends Executive Producer/Writer): With Courteney and Tom Selleck [in season two], if I’m not mistaken, there was no sense [at first] that was going to become a relationship with a capital ‘R,’ They went into that, and it was going to be one episode, two tops. And then they had such good chemistry, the producers and the writers at the time decided to explore it a little more.

10. The Group Negotiations Almost Killed the Show

2005 Television Critics Winter Press Tour
If it had been his call, this man would have fired Matt LeBlanc and destroyed the Friends cast’s mini-union

Schwimmer succeeded in convincing his castmates to operate as a mini-union, and by the third season they were all earning the same salary: $75,000 per episode. As the fourth season came to a close, though, they again re-negotiated, but this time it didn’t go quite so smoothly.

Harold Brook (NBC’s Executive VP for Business Affairs After John Agoglia Left): The numbers were insane when it came time to renew their contracts. 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 10:00 PM and closed around 3:00 AM. We had two promos made-one was the season finale, and one was the series finale.

Dick Wolf (Legendary TV writer/producer of Law & Order): When they made the Friends deal, the $100,000 apiece deal, I was pretty upset. What I would have done was come out the first day, say I was disappointed the cast had chosen to negotiate in the press, and I had the unpleasant news that Matt LeBlanc wouldn’t be on the show next year. I guarantee that you’d never have gotten to a second name.

Damn, Dick Wolf, fire Matt LeBlanc? No more Joey & the Chan-Chan Man?

9. They Almost Put Monica and Chandler Together In Season 3

Friends Monica ChandlerThe notion of a Monica-Chandler romance had been kicking around ever since an early season 2 episode in which Cox and Perry displayed fantastic chemistry together in a storyline involving Monica becoming Chandler’s over-zealous personal trainer. The idea of doing something more with that was first put on the table during the planning stages for season 3:

Scott Silveri: People got excited about the idea. [Fellow Friends writer] Shana Goldberg-Meehan was the one who said, ‘I just feel like at this point it would feel a little desperate.” We had gotten excited about the stories we could tell, but once she said that, we were all shamed and ran away. It became clear it was too early to explore something like that […] There was a little bit of relationship ennu among us writers. We’d already done a lot of drama between Ross and Rachel. And nobody wanted it to become the ‘Get Together and Break-Up’ show.

8. Pairing Monica and Chandler Together Eventually Became Too Irresistible Because It Would Prolong the Life of the Show

53a0786c1d161_-_cos-01-monica-chandler-wedding-xlSilveri: The thinking was, if the show’s going to be entertaining for years to come, it can’t simply rest on this one [Ross and Rachel] relationship. So it follows that if another pair got together, that would be fun and provide more story. And it’s organic: If you get six friends together, all around the same age, there’s gonna be a little mixing and matching as time goes on. It felt real.”

7. The Idea Was for Monica/Chandler to Be a Flipside Version of Ross/Rachel

ross-rachel-600x450The goal for season 4 was to put Monica and Chandler together as a surprise at the end, but they had to figure out how to do that.

Silveri: If someone’s too high drama, you look for someone stable. And so with Monica and Chandler, we decided to roll out in a way that was a reaction to the last big relationship [the show] had. With Ross and Rachel, it was so public, it was experienced by the group. Like, before there even was a ‘Ross and Rachel,’ there were the guys coaching Ross [about how to get her]. And then in the third season, with the breakup, it affected the six of them as much of the two of them. We’d ridden that bus as far as we cared to […] There were a lot of conversations with Courteney and Matthew about, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’. I don’t think anybody balked too much at them hooking up. That felt natural. The fallout came in the following year, when it became a relationship. They were acutely sensitive to how it played out. It wasn’t a relationship [the other characters were] talking about. Nobody knew about it. We as writers were almost as protective of it as those characters were. We didn’t want to make too much of a deal about it too early. That’s what you saw on the screen, but it’s also how we experienced it. We didn’t want to spend too much too fast. We didn’t want it to be high drama. So we just kept taking baby steps forward and feeling our way through.

6. They Filmed Monica-Chandler’s First Hook-Up In Front of 3 Separate Studio Audiences

Monica Chandler LondonThe season 4 finale was filmed in London, and to give the British audiences a treat the show actually filmed the entire finale three times straight through, like a play, in front of three separate studio audiences.

Silveri: So we got to experience them seeing that [Monica and Chandler] scene three times. The first time, I was huddled around a monitor, watching [the actors] perform. And when Monica popped up from beneath the sheets [after their hookup], there was just this explosion from the audience. It was a combination of a laugh/gasp/cry/shriek. They were just blown away by it. It was so intense, for the second or third takes, instead of watching the monitors, I just turned around and watched the audience […] Before the dawn of social media, you could keep secrets. We didn’t have to worry about spoilers.

5. Monica-Chandler Would Have Simply Been Abandoned If Audiences Hadn’t Responded The Way They Did

Friends Don't KnowSilveri: The question was, ‘All right, is this something we dispense with after a week? [or] Is it something we explore a little more?’’ There were plans, but there was no [final] decision. It was always, ‘We’re gonna see how it feels … We’re gonna see how it plays to the audience,’ and then go forward from there. It was sound producing on Kauffman and Crane’s part.

4. They Regularly Worked Into the Small Hours of the Morning

Friends Wanna GoCrane: Our hours were crazy. There were so many mornings when we were all finishing the rewrites. We’d get notes from the studio and the network.

Kauffman: But it was our notes that killed us. We knew we had to listen to the audience. Their silence tells you a lot. Laughing in good and bad ways. Laughing at setups instead of jokes.

Crane: We also felt everyone’s opinion was valid. There was no hierarchy. It made everything better, but longer too. Sometimes we lost our energy because we took so much time trying to find a better joke when we should have just moved one.

Kudrow: I think it was after our fifth or sixth year when it got easier because we insisted. We had enough power at that point. “We only need this much time to get it done.” We insisted on starting in the afternoon. Marta said, “We won’t find a studio audience at three.” We told her, “People plan vacations around this show. Let’s try.” It worked, and then we weren’t done at two in the morning anymore.

3. The Cast Really, Really Didn’t Like the Joey-Rachel Romance

friends-rachel-joey-kiss-rossCrane: When we had Joey fall for Rachel the actors freaked out. Matt kept saying, “It’s wrong. It’s like I want to be with my sister. We said, “Yes, it’s absolutely wrong. That’s why we have to do it.” You can’t just keep spinning the same plates. You have to go places you’re not expected to go.

LeBlanc: It felt wildly inappropriate. I was like, “That’s Rachel. She’s supposed to be with Ross.” Everybody got super-defensive about the whole thing. We went to David and Marta as a group and said, “We’re really concerned about this. It doesn’t feel right. We have a problem with it.

Crane: Once it actually started it was heartbreaking because it couldn’t go anywhere. It was always going to be Ross and Rachel.

2. It Could Have Easily Ended With Season 8 or 9

Friends_episode203Crane: We wrote three last seasons. It looked for a while like season eight was the last season. Then season nine. Warner Bros. told us this has to be the last season. Two days later, they come back and say, “Jeff Zucker stepped up, and it’s not the last season anymore.”

Kauffman: At that point, we said, “Season ten it is.”

Crane: You can’t keep writing the last season. You have to know where you’re going and go there. Having seen the Seinfeld finale and knowing when you depart from who you are, it doesn’t make the audience happy, let’s deliver to the audience what they want and what they’ve earned.

1. The Stress of Ending the Show Forced Matt LeBlanc to Start Smoking (Again)

birthday-party-and-friends-galleryLeBlanc: 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 won’t know you like this. I won’t see you every day, all day. Each lunch together every day. To have this awesome, awesome experience every week. It’s coming to an end.”

Sources: Vulture, Top of the Rock


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