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Profile of Show "Friends"

Aired November 15, 2003 - 11:00   ET


American television than it gets credit for.

ANNOUNCER: Storylines that never panned out.


DAVID CRANE, "Friends" CO-CREATOR: A big romantic connection was going to be between Monica and Joey.


ANNOUNCER: Fads that infiltrated our culture.


JENNIFER ANISTON, ACTRESS: I mean, come on, my hair, like I'm doing other things too.


ANNOUNCER: Insider information revealed.


CRANE: From everything that we knew about Courtney or had seen her on "Family Ties" and we had thought that she would be a perfect Rachel.


ANNOUNCER: And now, after a decade, how do you say goodbye?


MARTA KAUFFMAN, "FRIENDS" CO-CREATOR: These are our kids that we're sending to college. You know we hope we do a good job with them, but they do have to go.


ANNOUNCER: With the show in its final season, a revealing look at the cultural phenomenon of "Friends." PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Saying goodbye to old friends is never easy, especially when their lives have become part of our lives. For a decade, six fictional characters have dominated and defined not only American television but also pop culture. As "Friends" heads towards its farewell episode, a look at those onscreen and behind-the-scenes of this sitcom phenomenon, here's Sharon Collins.


SCHWIMMER: Hello, we didn't get married.

ANISTON: We didn't get married. That's ridiculous.

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler, Joey and Phoebe.

ANISTON: The fact that this has almost been a decade, that "Friends" has almost lasted a decade, is almost crazy to me.

Did I say congratulations?

I feel like we're all still 25.

COLLINS: Six friends on a first-name basis. Six people we can't seem to get enough of.

KEN TUCKER, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": It's inevitable when you watch somebody every week; you become interested in their personal life. I mean, gee, Jennifer Aniston goes home to Brad Pitt. That's really fascinating.

COLLINS: Six actors who started out as unknowns.

MATT ROUSH, "TV GUIDE": These were actors who were sort of having perennial premieres and begin filed for the no bar. None of them were stars. None of them had had huge success.

COLLINS: Six characters who have taken up permanent residence in popular culture.

MATT LEBLANC, ACTOR: Look at me, I'm Chandler. Could I be wearing any more clothes?

PERRY: People started to talk a little bit like we talk and that's always fun and interesting to hear. The other night, somebody came up to me and went, "Well, could you be more famous?" That was funny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you take the mike, Jennifer?

COLLINS: But why these six and why this show? And after 10 years together, are we finally ready to say goodbye?

CRANE: This is the first one where I think this absolutely feels like we should stop now. It's the perfect time. The characters are positioned right. You don't want to stay too long at the fair.

COLLINS: The television landscape was a different place when "Friends" hit the air in 1994. "60 Minutes" ruled the ratings. Family sitcoms, such as, "Home Improvement" and "Roseanne" were the top comedies, with "Seinfield" charging fast. Television was changing.

ROUSH: Yes, the mid 90's -- I mean the networks were already going pretty young. I mean they wanted to focus on this 20, 30-year- old demographic. NBC wanted to attract viewers who looked like the friends and that's what they got.

COLLINS: The idea for "Friends" came from creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. They along with fellow executive producer, Kevin Bright, had been the driving force behind the racy HBO sitcom, "Dream On".



CRANE: We spent our 20s living in New York and...

KAUFFMAN: As part of a little group of...

CRANE: Yes, there were just a group of us who were best friends. And action. So we said, let's just do a show about that. You're out of college; you're not quite sure what you're going to do next, where it's going...

KAUFFMAN: All your decisions are yet to be made. They're all in front of you. Everything has potential.

CRANE: We didn't want a high concept. Originally, we said, what if they all worked together? Another show where they all work together? And it was like no, they live -- some of them live near each other, some of them don't. It's just about a group of friends.

ANISTON: How are you feeling?

PERRY: Well, my apartment isn't there anymore because I drank it.

COLLINS: Simple as it seems, the "Friends" concept was unusual.

THOMPSON: Up until then the history of the sitcom that had essentially gone from the nuclear, biological family -- "Leave It To Beaver," "Donna Reed," "Father Knows Best" -- to the workplace family, that would be things like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Murphy Brown." Here, this was more an out of workplace family.

COLLINS: The network wasn't sure the idea would fly.

KEVIN BRIGHT, "FRIENDS" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER": I remember originally that there was a little bit of fear at NBC, just having six 20-somethings being the center of a show. CRANE: Yes, they were originally pushing for an older character. What if there's the guy who owns the coffeehouse or a cop who comes in? It was oh, no, please.


KAUFFMAN: Our feeling about it was that if the stories are good, and if you can connect with what's emotionally true in the stories, then anybody will watch.

COLLINS: The show's concept held true to the original idea, however, the characters themselves were changed slightly.

KAUFFMAN: Chandler and Phoebe, we didn't see as primary as the other four. They, in our minds, were a little more secondary. They would be our comic relief. And Matthew and Lisa were so phenomenal that they just became part of the whole thing and became a true ensemble.

THOMPSON: Six or seven, when you think about it -- "Giligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch" -- it's that perfect kind of number right around in there where you can get people -- one whose an intellectual, one whose kind of crazy, one whose really sexy. And I think we had that there. There really was a sense that "Friends" was "Giligan's Island" in a Manhattan apartment.

SCHWIMMER: Why are we in bed together?

ANISTON: I don't know.

COLLINS: In fact, originally the pairing of Ross and Rachel might have taken a back seat to another romance.

CRANE: We originally were imagining a big romantic connection was going to be between Monica and Joey. This is before it was cast, and then, once we got them, we were going, well now, that's interesting over there. What about Monica and Chandler? You know, you don't know. The show starts to tell you things.

COLLINS: When we come back...

PERRY: Las Vegas.

COLLINS: From "Boys Will Be Boys" to "Misfits of Science," what the cast members were doing before they became "Friends."

ROUSH: The idea that you would put these six almost nobodies together and you would have magic. Nobody saw that coming.



ANNOUNCER: Welcome back PEOPLE IN THE NEWS and our special look at "Friends."


COLLINS (voice-over): In 1994, "Friends" was ready to go before the cameras.

CRANE: The one sentence description of the show is, it's that time in your life when your friends are your family.

COLLINS: The challenge was to find the perfect actors to sit around Central Perk.

BRIGHT: We saw many, many versions of what that show might have been.

CRANE: This is a real ensemble. And I think to do that, you need to cast people who aren't stars.

LISA KUDROW, ACTRESS: Want to hear my slogan?



KUDROW: OK. Ursula, Ursula, she's our man, if she's not employee of the month, nobody can.

COLLINS: One familiar if not famous face the producers found was that of 31-year-old Lisa Kudrow. She had been playing a supporting role on the comedy, "Mad About You." The daughter of a renowned headache specialist, Kudrow graduated from Vassar College with a biology degree, but had been bitten by the acting bug.

KUDROW: But I always wanted to do it. I always loved it. And I graduated and my brother's best friend happens to be John Lovitts. He got "Saturday Night Live" and started working and you know, was on his way to becoming this huge success.



KUDROW: And that was really inspirational to me. So I thought, all right, let's try, let's give it a try.

COLLINS: Kudrow joined The Brownings, an improve comedy troop in Los Angeles. She had also won the role of Roz on "Fraizer," which didn't work out.

KUDROW: Yes, I got fired. And they were so nice about it. They called -- the producers called themselves and "We're just so sorry. We think you're great. This has nothing to do with your talent. You can't come away with this thinking this is any kind of sign other than maybe you're supposed to do something else," which they were right.

SCHWIMMER: It's a totally different situation. It's apples and oranges. COLLINS: Another friend who was cast early was 27-year-old David Schwimmer. The son of prominent Beverly Hill's attorneys, Schwimmer attended Northwestern University studying theater. Later, he co- founded The Looking Glass Theater Company in Chicago with his own group of friends.

SCHWIMMER: You have that kind of give-and-take, and everyone's going through something. But it's a family; it's a second family.

KAUFFMAN: David Schwimmer had auditioned for us for another pilot and he just stuck in our minds.

CRANE: In fact, of all of the -- he's the one, when we were writing the pilot -- whenever we were writing Ross, we thought, you know who would be great for this? In fact, I -- remember -- and so...

KAUFFMAN: He was kind of in the back of our minds.

CRANE: And so, when it was done, he was the first person we offered a part to.

PERRY: Whoa, Sid, you look hot!

COLLINS: For the role of Chandler, producers chose 25-year-old Matthew Perry, an actor with a resume filled with TV guest spots, failed pilots and off the air series such as 1990s "Sidney."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Billy, gate a life.

PERRY: I am trying.

COLLINS: Perry was a teenage tennis prodigy with dreams of turning professional. Instead, he chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, actor Jon Bennett Perry, who was best known for appearing in Old Spice commercials.

PERRY: The only way I would get to see him on a regular basis was on television. And he'd call up and say, "OK, I'm on" you know some -- "I'm on 'Hawaii 5-0' 8:00 tonight." I was like great. I get to see dad. And I think that generated kind of a respect for the business that way.

LEBLANC: Now, Rach, when she taught me to kiss, this is a cam (ph)?

COLLINS: Another future cast member who had been paying his dues was 27-year-old Matt LeBlanc.

JULIE JORDAN, ASSOCIATE L.A. BUREAU CHIEF, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: Matt LeBlanc grew up in Massachusetts. His father is a mechanic. His mother was an office worker. He's an only child and seg-wayed into modeling. He's very much the beefy, hunky kind of guy.

LEBLANC: There were tough times in New York. There were very lean times. I worked as a short order cook and I worked, you know, various other jobs just to squeak by. COLLINS: Leblanc too was a veteran of multiple minor television roles, including a spin-off of "Married With Children."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good-bye to you, Al, and to your two lovely daughters.

COX: So what? She's a woman. So what?

COLLINS: Perhaps the best-known actor who would join the cast was 30-year-old Courtney Cox. Originally, a teen model from Alabama, she first made her splash in a 1984 music video.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: Can't start a fire...

COX: I think the Bruce Springsteen video -- the way that opened doors for me, that was a fairytale, being in a video for 24 seconds, dancing like a total moron, yes that was -- that's a fairytale, the fact that I got in, you know, to see casting directors because of that.

COLLINS: Cox went on to win a recurring role on "Family Ties" playing Michael J. Fox's girlfriend.

BRIGHT: We originally saw Courtney as being Rachel and it was really Courtney that came to us and said, "No, I'm Monica."

ANISTON: I am a senior. You are a nothing.

COLLINS: The role of Rachel would go to 25-year-old Jennifer Aniston whose acting credits included the TV version of "Ferris Bueller..."

ANISTON: Keep a low profile.


COLLINS: ... and the low budget horror flick, "Leprechaun." The daughter of soap opera actor, John Aniston, she was the last cast member to join "Friends."

ANISTON: Yes, I knew Matt and the other Matt -- Matthew -- I had known. And so I -- you just kept hearing the names of the people that were going to be doing it and you just got more and more excited.

CRANE: You don't know how it's going to end up. I mean there were other actors who could have ended up in those parts.

KAUFFMAN: Were offered and turned them down.

CRANE: We don't like to talk about that but it's true. And I imagine what this show would be with other people and it's just -- it's not the same know.

COLLINS: The cast was assembled, the chemistry instantaneous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And cut. BRIGHT: We saw that first run through, and I remember it, it was like you were watching a cast that had been on television for five years already.

KAUFFMAN: I got chills up my spine. I don't think they were even really in the middle of the show yet, of the run through. I got chills up my spine and just knew that was magical.

PERRY: We kind of all bonded a little bit just because we were on this show that we all liked and we all kind of feel lucky to be part of it, so just a lot of smiling the first week.

KUDROW: A lot of love. You might say...

PERRY: A lot of love.

KUDROW: ... that it was "Camp Friends."

PERRY: Or you might not say that depending on, you know, where your mind's at.

KUDROW: Depending on who you want to hurt.

PERRY: Yes, I wouldn't say it because Lisa would say it, which I find interesting and fun. Sorry.

COLLINS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, six new friends become icons while the show quietly pushes the envelope.

THOMPSON: There was a lot more sex talk on "Friends" than there had been in most television programs before that, but they just didn't make such a big deal about it.



ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS and our special look at "Friends."


COLLINS (voice-over): With its cast of six good-looking, 20- somethings assembled, "Friends" debuted in September 1994...

PERRY: Oh, she should not be wearing those pants.

COLLINS: ... between the comedies, "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld."

ROUSH: "Friends" came on to the age Fox had arrived on the scene as well. And FOX had brought some pretty racy stuff on "Melrose Place." Those kinds of shows were all playing during the life of "Friends." And so, TV was getting racier. I think that "Friends" reflected that.

PERRY: Sometimes I wish I was a lesbian. Did I say that out loud?

COLLINS: From the start, the show wasn't afraid to tackle sex and other sensitive subjects during the 8:00 family hour.

COX: OK, look, this is probably for the best, you know.

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