IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Friends' creators share show's beginnings

The creators of 'Friends' share the changes and unexpected developments behind the beginning of the highly successful sitcom.
/ Source: Dateline NBC

For 10 years, it's been some of the best, most-watched TV. Along the way, we got to share amazing moments with six good friends. We watched them as teenagers, saw them get married, and almost married, have babies, married or not, and fall in and out of love.

It was just like real friends, just like real life -- just a little bit funnier.

Courtney Cox: “I say to the crew: oh my God, we're so lucky everybody. This is the best job we could ever have.”

Matthew Perry: “I find myself like, leaning into the windshield to get to work, you know what I mean? As opposed to, oh, I have to go do this again. And that's for 10 years.”

Ten years, and 236 episodes, all shot on stage 24 at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. A remarkable run.

Lisa Kudrow: “And now that I know that it -- it's truly over, I think I'm worried about being overwhelmed.”

Jennifer Aniston: “I'm just terrified. I don't want it to end at all.”

It's the end not just of a sitcom, but of something that's been a big part of our pop culture. Remember when every girl had to have Rachel’s haircut, when every radio played the theme song? And now, nearly everyone delivers a punch-line just like Chandler Bing.

Matt LeBlanc: “They're five people who I've really grown to really love.”

David Schwimmer: “We were like six pieces of a puzzle that just felt like, OK, this works.”

Sure, we take this all for granted now, but 10 years ago, "Friends" was almost a very different kind of show.

Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane created "Friends" at a low-point in their careers. A sitcom of theirs, "Family Album," had just been cancelled by CBS. The future seemed very uncertain.

Matt Lauer: “The story goes that you became a little nostalgic and you start to think about what it was like to get out of college and be in New York, and some light bulb went on.”

Marta Kauffman: “We were looking at a time when the future was more of a question mark. Maybe because that's what we were feeling at the moment, but looking at that question mark and going: that's interesting. Everybody knows that feeling.”

Out of that feeling came a seven-page pitch in December of 1993, for a show then called "Insomnia Cafe."

NBC bought the idea. But as Kauffman and Crane began to write the pilot script for a show now titled "Friends Like Us,” some early plans started to shift. The biggest was a love story pitched to NBC, that never made it to the screen.

David Crane: “Initially we thought the big love interest was Joey-Monica. This is before we wrote the script, when we were just pitching the series.”

Kauffman: “They just seemed the most sexual of the characters.”

Crane: “We didn't know, when we pitched the show, the idea of Ross and Rachel. That was something we discovered writing it.”

More changes came with casting. Producers wanted Courtney Cox for the role of  Rachel. But she said no, she wanted to play Monica.

Lauer: “Did it take long for you to agree with her?”

Kauffman: “She had this cheery, upbeat energy. We thought, well, that's not how we envisioned Monica. And then she came in and did it, and we went, huh!”

She got the role. And then, Matt LeBlanc put a different spin on Joey, when he auditioned.

Crane: “When we wrote it, I don’t think we realized that Joey was dim, and that was going to be a major source of comedy.”

Kauffman: “And that he had heart.”

Lauer: “Matt LeBlanc says that he thought the script sucked.”

Kauffman: “You know –“

Lauer: “I'm sorry Matt, I didn’t mean to say that.”

Crane: “Hey buddy!”

Lauer: “That was a pure slip of the tongue.” [laughter]

Kauffman: “We didn’t want him.”

Lauer: “You didn’t want him?”

Crane: “He was shoved down our throats!”

Lauer: “Oh, so this was the network's doing?”

Crane: “Right.”

Kauffman: “One favor we had to do.”

Meanwhile, NBC liked the pilot script, and ordered up the series -- now with yet another title, "Six of One." Shooting began in the summer of 1994. Audiences were given a rundown to read, so they could follow a show with six different main characters.

Suddenly, NBC began to get nervous. executives now worried the coffee house setting was too hip, and wanted the show in a diner, like "Seinfeld."  And NBC thought the cast was too young. The network pushed for an older character, who could give sage advice to the kids.

Crane: “We even tried it. At one point we even wrote a draft of an early episode, but it had, oh God, some cop who came in.”

Kauffman: “Pat the cop.”

Crane: “We were all going, this is terrible.”

Kauffman: “You know the kids book, 'Pat the Bunny?' We had Pat the Cop.”

NBC dropped both ideas. But there was one more problem. In the pilot, Monica is dumped by a guy after sleeping with him on their first date. The network worried viewers wouldn't like Monica for that. NBC handed out a survey to the pilot audience, asking if the storyline was "offensive" and should be changed.

Kevin Bright: “The survey cards were handed out to find out: do you think for sleeping with a man on the first date Monica is a) a whore, b) a slut –“

Kauffman: “C) A tramp.”

Lauer: “D) 'Your dream date.' And it turned out people liked her?”

Kauffman: “They did, they liked her.”

NBC backed off, and the show, now finally called, simply, "Friends,” premiered on September 22, 1994. It was an instant hit seen by nearly 22 million people.

Now, "Friends" is about to go out the way it came in, on top of the comedy heap. The magic was there from the very beginning. The real trick was that it kept going for so long.

Lauer: “Let me read you from the original treatment, the pitch, OK? "It's about sex, love, relationships, careers, a time in your life when everything's possible. And it's about friendship because when you're single and in the city, your friends are your family."  Is that what “Friends has delivered for 10 years?”

Crane: “This was one of those things where the idea was very clear to us. And the writers still make fun of us because it's like, oh, when you're in your 20s, your friends are your family. But that's the show!”

And that was the show. For 10 years, there was a group of friends that we got to know like friends.