NOTE: Many viewers contacted Dateline NBC to ask what song closed out the special. The song was "Goodbye Baby," sung by Stevie Nicks, off the latest Fleetwood Mac CD, called "Say You Will."
Sit down with a group of people who've worked together for 10 years, and you'll probably hear some pretty good stories. So imagine what the cast of 'Friends' has to say. Katie Couric and Matt Lauer got together with all of them on the show's set, Stage 24 at Warner Brothers Studios. They talked about that first fateful meeting and the bittersweet moment when they'll say goodbye.
Katie Couric: "We all sat together in a comfortable, familiar spot: the living room of Monica's apartment. Through the ‘Today’ show, Matt and I have charted the cast and their careers from the very beginning. So, that's where we started. Back in 1994, the ‘Today’ show was doing a morning on the set of ‘ER.’ And somebody suggested we mosey over to the next studio and talk to these young kids who were doing a new show called ‘Friends.' To refresh your memory and to remind us how bad my past hairstyles have been, we've got a little clip of that show. So let's take a look.”
Matt Lauer: “How bizarre was that?”
Jennifer Aniston: “Slightly disturbing!”
Matt Lauer: “I know, man, it was weird. But when you look back at that, what goes through your mind? Matt?”
Matt LeBlanc: “Your hair. All of our hair, actually.”
Aniston: “Oh, jeez.”
Lauer: “Let's talk about that first day together, alright? You all come together, first time. Was it a table read? Was that the first time you saw each other?”
Courtney Cox Arquette: “Well, I remember meeting Jennifer before the table read. We met when you read for the network.”
Aniston: “With Matty.”
Courteney Cox Arquette: “The three of us, right. And I just remember thinking that Jennifer was so friendly and warm and just not competitive at all, just really sweet. And I had to read with him [LeBlanc], and I really want him to get the part because I thought he was so dang cute.”
Lisa Kudrow: “When I first heard the table read, and I heard everybody do their part, it was really fun--oh that's how everyone should sound. That's great! For me the biggest shock was Chandler, Matthew Perry doing Chandler. Because that's not how I read the script, and I thought Chandler was the gay character of the show.”
Couric: “And your point?”
David Schwimmer: “I had a similar, I think, response.”
Matthew Perry: “You thought I was gay, too?”
Schwimmer: “I was really nervous that day.”
Group: “We all were.”
Couric: “Were you all really nervous?”
Aniston: “Oh, terrified!”
Perry: “Don't drop the ball. That was the whole thing, because the script was so great.”
They didn't drop the ball. "Friends" was an instant hit, and the young cast became real friends, on and off stage. Soon, they bonded even more, when they agreed to negotiate their contracts with the studio together as a group, a TV first.
Aniston: “Not having that hanging over our heads, that oh, so-and-so's getting paid that much more than I am. I don't think we're the type, anyway that would resent. But you know, you never know. And so I think, absolutely, that did help.”
Lauer: “A lot has been made over the years, and you've said it a bunch of times, that if during the course of the run of the show, if one of you had said, enough, that probably would have spelled the end of the show. In year five, if Matthew had come and said, you know what folks, I've got another priority. I'm going to go. Do you really think the show would have come to an end?”
Aniston: “No. Sorry that's real...”
Cox Arquette: “What did you say?”
Perry: “She volunteered that she wouldn't care if I was on the show.”
Aniston: “No, not meaning—“
Lauer: “But you would have gone on, wouldn't you have?”
Cox Arquette: “Well, I think that, to tell you the truth, they made it kind of clear that they would do the show with four of us and not all six. I think I remember hearing that during negotiations and stuff. And I don't how, but I guess that's just the truth. They could've done it with four friends.”
But they stuck together in talks with the studio, and their salaries grew from a reported $22,000 an episode in the first season, to $1 million an episode this year. No matter what the paycheck, they did 236 shows over 10 seasons. We all have our favorites. The cast does, too.
The magical feeling among the actors continued for 10 seasons. But now it's coming to an end, and the cast has to deal with moving on -- yet somehow staying friends.
Lauer: “As you head into that last night, Matt, what's going to be going through your mind?”
Perry: “Well, first of all it's impossible to tell you, because I've never experienced anything like this.”
Couric: “Are you very worried about not seeing each other? No matter how many times you say to people: we'll stay in touch, we'll schedule dinners. It's just going to be probably logistically, very difficult. Courtney, what will you do to stay in touch with everybody?”
Aniston: “Assuming we want to.”
Couric: “Now the truth comes out –“
Cox Arquette: “I know I’ll see the girls. I think we make more of an effort as far as a need to see each other. Over the summer, Lisa will come to the beach with her son and hang out with Jennifer. I think that will be easier. It's just, they seem to travel a lot, the boys. I don't know how we hang out though. Because we [LeBlanc] live pretty close and we double date. You two [Schwimmer and Perry], I don't know. How are we going to keep up with you two?”
Perry: “I'll tell you what David and I are going to do.”
Couric: “You're going to be going to the beach together.”
All great sitcoms are usually about one big theme. “MASH” was about war, “Seinfeld” was about, well, nothing. For "Friends," we read from something the cast had never seen before: That original pitch, written by the show's creators back in 1993.
Lauer: "’It's about sex love, relationship, career, a time in your life when everything possible, which is really exciting and really scary. It's about searching for love and commitment and security and the fear of love and commitment and security. It's about friendship, because when you're young and single in the city, your friends are your family.’"
Kudrow: “Wow that was great.”
Schwimmer: “That's what I was going to say.”
Aniston: “I'd have bought that.”
Audiences bought it, too, very happily. And for a decade, these friends have been like family.