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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profile of Final Episode of "Friends"

Aired May 1, 2004 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, ANCHOR: Earlier this week, the suspected al Qaeda operative warned Muslims to stay away from Americans or risk being hurt in attacks.
The European Union is welcoming ten new countries to the fold. The biggest expansion in the organization's 47-year history brings in eight former communist nations. Together, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia along with Cyprus and Malta boosts the E.U.'s population to 450 million people.

In this country, heavy thunderstorms are being blamed for at least two deaths in east Texas. Fort Worth officials say a woman and her young son were killed when their car was swept away by rushing waters. Firefighters are still searching for another son also thought to have been in the car.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SAN MIGUEL: I'm Renay San Miguel at the CNN Center. Up next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, a farewell to "Friends."

ANNOUNCER: Next, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS,

MATTHEWS PERRY, ACTOR: So Matty, CNN is here. Do you ever watch CNN?

ANNOUNCER: ... a glimpse behind the scenes of "Friends," the sitcom we've grown to love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Friends" was a lot more revolutionary in the history of American television than it gets credit for.

ANNOUNCER: Story lines that never panned out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big romantic connection was going to be between Monica and Joey.

ANNOUNCER: Fads that infiltrated our culture.

JENNIFER ANISTON, ACTRESS: Come on, my hair? I'm doing other things, too.

ANNOUNCER: Insider information revealed.

KEVIN BRIGHT, "FRIENDS" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: From everything that we knew about Courteney or had seen her on "Family Ties," we thought that she'd be a perfect Rachel.

ANNOUNCER: And now, after a decade, these six friends say goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The cast backstage just got so emotional, they started crying.

ANNOUNCER: A revealing look at the cultural phenomenon of "Friends," now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

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 now, six fictional characters have dominated and defined not only American television but also pop culture.

As "Friends" heads towards its final episode this week, a look at the on-screen and behind the scenes of this hit sitcom phenomenon.

Here's Sharon Collins.

DAVID SCHWIMMER, ACTOR: Hello, we're going to get married?

ANSITON: We're going to get married? That's ridiculous.

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ross and Rachel.

PERRY: I love you.

COLLINS: Monica and Chandler.

LISA KUDROW, ACTOR: We're going to need meatball subs? (ph)

MATT LEBLANC, ACTOR: That is incredible.

COLLINS: Joey and Phoebe.

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

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 careers of being in pilots that didn't go far. None of them were stars. None of them had had huge success.

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

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

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

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

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

DAVID CRANE, "FRIENDS" CO-CREATOR: 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 "Seinfeld" charging fast. Television was changing.

JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN: Always popular.

ROUSH: Yes, in the mid-90s, 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. That's what they got.

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

BRIAN BENBEN, ACTOR: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no!

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

COLLINS (on camera) Part of a little group of...

CRANE: There were just a group of us who were best friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And action.

CRANE: 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."

MARTA KAUFMAN, CO-CREATOR: 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 live near each other, some of them don't. It's just about a group of friends.

ANISTON: How you feeling?

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

COLLINS (voice-over): Simple as it seems, the "Friends" concept was unusual.

PROF. ROBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF POPULAR CULTURE: Up until then the history of the sitcom 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," "Murphy Brown."

Here, this was more of an out of workplace family.

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

BRIGHT: 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: 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's like, "Oh, no, please."

KAUFMAN: 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.

KAUFMAN: 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: "Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch." It's that perfect kind of number right around in there where you can get people. One who's an intellectual, one who's kind of crazy, one who's really sexy. And I think we had that there.

There really was a sense that "Friends" was "Gilligan's Island" in a Manhattan apartment.

SCHWIMMER: How long were 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 imaging a big romantic connection was going to be between Monica and Joey. This was before it was cast.

And then, once we got there, well, that's interesting over there, what about Monica and Chandler?

PERRY: Yes!

COURTENEY COX, ACTRESS: Oh, yes!

CRANE: 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."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea you would put these six almost nobodies together and you would have magic, nobody saw that coming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

COLLINS: 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.

KUDROW: Want to hear my slogan?

HELEN HUNT, ACTRESS: Yes, please.

PAUL REISER, ACTOR: Sure.

KUDROW: 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'd been playing a supporting role on the comedy "Mad About You."

The daughter of a renowned headache specialist, Kudrow graduated from Vasser College with a biology degree and had been bitten by the acting bug.

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

JON LOVITZ, COMEDIAN: Acting!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brilliant!

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

COLLINS: Kudrow joined The Groundlings, an improv comedy troupe in Los Angeles.

KUDROW: Yay!

COLLINS: She's also won the role of Roz on "Frasier," which didn't work out.

KUDROW: Yes, I got fired. And they were so nice about it. They called. The producers called themselves and were 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 Hills 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.

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

CRANE: In fact, of all the -- he's the one when we're writing a pilot, whenever we were writing Ross, we were saying, "You know who would be great for this, that guy. Remember?" And so...

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

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

PERRY: Whoa, Syd, 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 1990's "Sydney."

VALERIE BERTINELLI, ACTRESS: Billy, get 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 John 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. He'd call up and say, "OK, I'm on some -- I'm on 'Hawaii 5-0' at 8 tonight."

I was like, "Great. I get to see Dad." I think I generated kind of a respect for the business that way.

LEBLANC: When she told me to kiss this is a camp?

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 was a mechanic. His mother was an office worker. He was an only child. And segued into modeling. 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, you know, had other various jobs just to squeak by.

COLLINS: LeBlanc, too, was a veteran of multiple minor roles, including a spin-off of "Married with Children."

LEBLANC: Goodbye to you, Al, and to your two lovely daughters.

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

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

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, SINGER (singing): Can't start the 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 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 Courteney as being Rachel. And it was really Courteney that came to us and said, "No, I'm Monica."

ANISTON: I'm 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: Do you keep a low profile?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lowest.

ANISTON: Oh, my God!

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: I knew Matt. And the other Matt, Matthew, I had known. And so, and 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.

KAUFMAN: Were offered and turned them down.

CRANE: We don't like to talk about that.

KAUFMAN: No.

CRANE: But -- But it's true. And I imagine what this show would be with other people. And it's just -- it's not the same show.

COLLINS: The cast was assembled, the chemistry instantaneous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And cut.

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

KAUFMAN: I got chills up my spine. I don't think they were really even 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 a part of it. So just a lot of smiling the first week.

KUDROW: A lot of love. You might say it was Camp Friends.

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

KUDROW: Depending on who you want to hurt.

PERRY: See, I wouldn't say it, but 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 didn't just make such a big deal about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

COLLINS: 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 in the age Fox had arrived onto the scene as well. And Fox had brought some pretty racy stuff on: "Melrose Place." Those kind of shows were all playing during the life of "Friends." And so TV was getting racier. I think "Friends" reflected that.

PERRY: Sometimes I wished 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 p.m. family hour.

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

COLLINS: "Friends'" first episode saw Rachel dumping her fiance at the altar, Monica sleeping with a man on the first date, and Ross' wife leaving him for another woman.

SCHWIMMER: She didn't know. How should I know?

THOMPSON: And it just started discussing the stuff much more casually. There was a sense in which "Friends" was a lot more revolutionary in the history of American television than it gets credit for or that it appeared to be, because it was just so blase. It was just so casual about it.

KUDROW: I would never in a million years, ever. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Action.

COLLINS: "Friends" quickly began generating higher ratings than its lead-in.

TUCKER: I think in a lot of ways what "Friends" connected to originally was that kind of Generation X, Generation Y kind of coming along. This was not a Baby Boomer show.

THOMPSON: "Friends" made a promise to people who viewed it, which was that life could always be like freshman year in the dormitory, people coming in without knocking, friends all over the place, messing around.

There was a sense to which "Friends" argued that American life could be perpetually a fraternity house.

SCHWIMMER: These are the good-looking guys on "Friends," not the Italian hunk over there.

Oh, hey, Matt.

PERRY: Hey, hey, how are you?

COLLINS: Before its first year was over, "Friends" had exploded from freshman phenomenon to full-fledged fad. Coffee mugs, cookbooks. The "Friends" were everywhere.

ROUSH: It was almost to the point you couldn't turn around and not see a "Friends" item, a "Friends" story, a "Friends" cover, "Friends" poster.

BRIGHT: It was a shock for all of us. I think, you know, for the actors it was going from being able to walk into any restaurant or any supermarket and do what they would normally do on a given day to literally not being able to go anywhere without being recognized.

COLLINS: Television history is filled with shows that start out red hot and cool off just as quickly. "Friends" went from fad to the foundation of Thursday night television.

ROUSH: I think the reason that "Friends" could survive such an overexposure in its early days was the fact it was a really good show. If it wasn't a funny show that made you care, it wouldn't have mattered.

THOMPSON: The closest example I can think of in TV history would be "The Simpsons," which also started out with this enormous penetration and overexposure. And then it kind of went away, and the show was able to settle into a much more normal kind of existence with in the culture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Action!

COLLINS: The influence of "Friends" would soon be seen all over TV. ROUSH: You saw a lot of shows that were trying to copy the tone, the look, and the style of "Friends." "Caroline in the City" for a couple of years. "Suddenly Susan" was another hit for a short time on NBC or "Veronica's Closet." They were all pretty much set in New York, set you know, among glamorous people.

COLLINS: While other sitcoms came and went, "Friends" remained in the top 10 in the ratings.

TUCKER: The characters were cut of this kind of Rubik's Cube of relationship. Over the course of so many seasons, we've seen them pair off in different ways.

And the writers' task has been to make those pairings believable to us and make the break-ups believable, and then make the new relationships believable. It's a very, very tricky thing to pull off.

ANISTON: Chandler, Monica, come on!

COLLINS: By 2001, "Friends" was entering its eighth season, a time most sitcoms are on their last legs. The events of September 11 would show how much relevance "Friends" still had.

THOMPSON: There was a moment there, where it seemed that watching "Friends" after September 11 was tantamount to a patriotic act, that somehow this was a mark that we had survived.

ANISTON: And I don't know what that was. I think it was just maybe New York and we're friends and, you know, it's "Friends."

COLLINS: The show had made a conscious decision not to deal with the attacks directly.

BRIGHT: This was something that didn't feel like you could joke about. And at the same time, we didn't want to do a very special episode of "Friends." And I think just making subtle gestures towards it was enough, because we didn't want to remind people about something that was painful.

THOMPSON: That's really what "Friends" is all about. It is escapism. It is anesthesia. It is something to make us feel that we're temporarily in a world that looks and sounds like ours, but is funnier, is better and is safer.

COLLINS: The show would finish the 2001-2002 season in first place, the first time in its eight-year history it had finished No. 1. It also achieved another first, an Emmy award for best comedy series.

BRIGHT: We started to feel like the popularity of the show was sort of its curse, that anything that popular couldn't be that good almost in a way.

KAUFMAN: We used to joke we were the Susan Lucci of sitcoms. But...

CRANE: It was very nice to win. KAUFMAN: It was really fun.

COX: Let's go, Blinky.

COLLINS: Still to come, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS goes behind the scenes of "Friends."

PERRY: I'm acting like I'm dialing. Isn't that good?

COLLINS: And its creators wrestle with how to say goodbye.

BRIGHT: How do we let them leave the show in a way that they feel these characters are going to be OK and they can leave it satisfied, knowing that they're going to be OK?

ANNOUNCER: They've been our friends for a decade now, setting trends and styles and simply looking good. So it is fitting that this year, one of the cast members graces the cover of "People" magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World," Jennifer Aniston.

But do you know which Central Perk pals have made the list before? And who is the most beautiful of them all? The answers when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: They're the 50 most beautiful people in the world. In the last 50 years they've been the stars that captivated the world. The first friend to appear on the cover, Courteney Cox back in 1995. While Phoebe, Chandler and Joey have made the list, Ross has not. Jennifer Aniston's real life hubby Brad Pitt has and again this year. Joining me on the list perennial favorite Salle Berry tying American sweetheart Julia Roberts with the most appearances, eight. And guess who is the father of two other beauties in this year's issues, model Alexandra and Theodore Richards dad is Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards. Keith has never made the cut.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues now with Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

When it comes to "Friends," you know the cast, you know their lives, their love interests and their catch phrases. But how does it all come together? And how will it end?

Once again, here's Sharon Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHWIMMER: I got to go. I'm taking Ben to the park.

KUDROW: Give him a kiss for me.

SCHWIMMER: All right, bye.

KUDROW: Bye. SCHWIMMER: Later.

KUDROW: I am so sorry you got caught in the middle of that. I didn't mean to be so out there. But I am furious with him.

PERRY: Wow, calm down?

THOMPSON: The reason why the sitcom is the basic unit of American television is that they're easy to watch.

COX: Why are you so mad at him?

ROUSH: There's got be a comfort level. There has to be a sense that the show both entertains you and also gets you involved to a certain extent in who these people are.

KUDROW: You want to be on my list, too? Keep talking.

KEN TUCKER, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think "Friends" looks so inviting and easy, the way they do it, that you don't see how much work must have gone into constructing these characters, making them work, making them believable.

COLLINS (voice-over): What are the secrets behind "friends" decade long run?

How did the creators, crew, writers and cast put this show together?

LEBLANC: What happens usually is the cast will get together over the weekend and hash out the story. We'll give it to the writers, they put their name on it, then we show up, pretend like we never saw it before and -- you know, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Joey's goal is to get the money.

COLLINS: In reality, a typical "Friends" episode began in the writers' room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you can start off and then build to him...

ADAM CHASE, WRITER: We always try to write based on our own experiences. But the problem is that we work so many hours, we've all run out of experiences.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no experience.

COLLINS: Another challenge, finding a balance between the stories and character development, between humor and emotion.

COX: Come on, you'll be late for the eye doctor appointment.

MARIA KAUFFMAN, "FRIENDS" CO-WRITER: There are some shows, I can think of one in particular, where Ross and Rachel break up.

ANISTON: I think you should go.

KAUFFMAN: That the second act, the scene between Ross and Rachel, there are almost no jokes between them, maybe one or two. All the jokes are coming from the other four listening in.

I think you should go. What? I really think you need to go now. Okay, okay--

That the second act, the scene between Ross and Rachel, there are almost no jokes between them. Maybe one or two. All the jokes are coming from the other four listening in.

DAVID CRANE, "FRIENDS" CO-CREATOR: It's whatever feels right. Sometimes you can go for a whole scene and there's maybe a joke and that feels exactly right. And sometimes, if it isn't like popping joke, joke, joke, you feel like something's wrong with the scene.

COLLINS: Creating a "Friends" episode means developing story lines for six different characters, all equally important.

KUDROW: A lot of them dove tail into each other. Which, you know, to come up with in a couple weeks is -- that's pretty extraordinary writing.

ANISTON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact the focus could shift, that was a great creative freedom that I think the writers and directors had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go, guys. And rolling!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a way to bring in odd subplots and focus on a character for two or three or four episodes and build a kind of story arc throughout the season.

COLLINS: Some story arks were created and set aside to be used at just the right time.

CRANE: We put off getting Monica and Chandler together for years. After someone had the idea, it was like, it's too soon. It's right on top of Ross and Rachel. It's going to be too soon.

PERRY: It was only going to be like a three-episode kind of -- a three-episode thing. But everybody liked it so much, they are just keeping it going, which is really cool for us.

COLLINS: Other plot twists came as a last minute surprise, even to the creators.

CRANE: Season eight, when Joey and Rachel got together, we didn't know until halfway through the season that was ever going to happen.

LEBLANC: Oh, my god, that is great.

CRANE: It didn't even occur to us. We just reached a point halfway through when we're going, we need Rachel to meet somebody interesting -- or Joey. And that's interesting.

KAUFFMAN: My hope is we haven't gone any farther in a larger way, story-wise, than life does.

COLLINS: A typical production week begins on Monday with the cast and writers going over the script for the first time.

SCHWIMMER: They go and rewrite. Tuesday, a new script. We rehearse all day and they start working on the next week's episode. Tuesday night, the end of the day, about between 3:30 and 5:00, they come for a run through of the whole show, what we've blocked and rehearsed.

COLLINS: The rehearsals also gave the cast a chance to make suggestions.

ANISTON: It's a weird thing because we have an idea who our characters are. They're the ones who write them, and created them.

KUDROW: I am so sorry you got caught in the middle of that. I didn't mean to be so out there.

CRANE: The actors learn how to play these characters over the years. The best "Friends" scripts are the ones character specific and bring us closer to the characters we've come to know and love.

COLLINS: After more rehearsals, shows are taped before a live audience.

KEVIN BRIGHT, "FRIENDS" EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: The live audience will tell us whether a joke was just not good enough. And fortunately, we had a writing staff that was fast enough to be able to change that joke right in front of the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After Matthew says, "In my eye," you go, "Me, too."

BRIGHT: I think if you're there watching that night, those moments stick out in your head. Because, it's like, how do they do that? It's almost like a magic trick. That thing didn't work but they came back with something new.

COLLINS: The result, over 200 episodes, hookups and break-ups, marriages and children. And a place in television history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number 200.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My guess is "Friends" is going to join "Lucy," "Andy Griffith," "Dick Van Dyke," "The Simpsons," "Seinfeld," "The Cosby Show," as one of the 10 or 20 programs that will be in perpetual reruns from now until maybe ever.

COLLINS: Still to come on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, marriages on- screen, marriages off screen. America's fascination with the real lives of its "Friends."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEBLANC: I got the lead in the movie!

COLLINS (voice-over): On-screen, they're the best of friends.

THOMPSON: "Friends," in many ways, those six characters, were the epitome of show business chemistry.

COLLINS: Off screen the sex cast members formed a tight bond from the beginning.

LEBLANC: We're just one happy family.

ANISTON: We really are. It couldn't be more perfect.

CRANE: There's six actors on the show going from relative obscurity to what they became so quickly. That was a trajectory that they could really only talk to each other about. I think that helped kind of unite them.

COLLINS: That unity would show itself in an unusual way. The cast negotiated their contracts as a group, asking for six equal salaries.

TUCKER: It's unprecedented for a cast to band together the way that cast has done.

THOMPSON: There really was a sense that that power in numbers, that the six of them held, really got them what they needed.

COLLINS: For the latest renegotiation in 2002, each cast member held out for $1 million an episode.

TUCKER: I think the cast of "Friends" is worth $1 million an episode easily. You don't see the kind of faceless corporation that's making millions and millions and billions of dollars off of these people.

COLLINS: Their celebrity grew as large as their salaries.

ANISTON: It's kind of cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All six people on "Friends" were young, beautiful, on the make and therefore interesting to watch what they did.

COLLINS: Jennifer Aniston's celebrity status sizzled even more when she married hollywood hunk Brad Pitt in 2000. Both actors looked to their relationship for support in their careers. ANISTON: Just being able to bounce ideas off someone, you know, off of your friend, your best friend and also be able to cry when it's not going well.

COLLINS: Still, as one of Hollywood's golden couples, the tabloids often target Aniston and Pitt.

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: We've been in it long enough to not take it so seriously. And it's usually always inaccurate. Now we have have more of a laugh from it when we do pay attention to.

ANISTON: We are trying to figure what our -- both of our dream weddings would be like.

COLLINS: A relationship that caused many onlookers to scratch their heads, been the marriage of Courteney Cox and David Arquette.

JULIE JORDAN, ASSOC. L.A. BUREAU CHIEF, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: They are a lesson in opposites. David is kooky, wild, crazy. Courteney is serious, balanced, mature. Between the two of them, they found a perfect balance.

COLLINS: They soon add a third member to the balancing act. The couple's first baby is due this summer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lisa.

COLLINS: Lisa Kudrow also got married during the show's run to 1995 to French advertising executive, Michelle Stern.

KUDROW: He's just decent. He's like ultimately just a decent person and -- I don't know. I'll start crying.

COLLINS: The couple have a 5-year-old son, Julian. Her pregnancy was written into the show with Phoebe having her brother's triplets.

KUDROW: It's too hard. Too hard!

COLLINS: Family and privacy rank high on Kudrow's list of priorities.

CYNTHIA SANZ, SENIOR EDITOR, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Lisa really is very private. She doesn't hang out with other celebrity types. She really wants to be a mom and a wife and stay home.

SCHWIMMER: Normally, we don't really sit next to each other or talk, Lisa or I.

COLLINS: David Schwimmer has also managed to keep a low profile.

SCHWIMMER: Would you stop filming me, please?

SANZ: He doesn't go to a lot of premieres and things. He has his friends that he hangs out with, but he's not a real Hollywood type. COLLINS: However, he's been coupled with his share of Hollywood beauties.

SANZ: David has been linked to a lot of women over the years. He's dated various models. He went out with Natalie Imbruglia. He was out with the actress, Mili Avital.

COLLINS: Matt Leblanc and Melissa McKnight celebrate their first wedding anniversary this month.

SANZ: Matt and Melissa meet in 1997 through friends. Melissa immediately knew that this was the man she wanted to spend rest of her life with.

COLLINS: In February the newly weds welcomed their first child.

SANZ: They have two other children from her previous relationships, but this is Matt's first chance to be a dad himself.

COLLINS: Matthew Perry has been linked to a series of high profile women including Julie Roberts, Yasmine Bleeth and Jennifer Capriati. However, it was his problem with alcohol and drug addiction that played out.

PERRY: I got into serious trouble with painkillers, a painkiller called vicodin. And that was mostly not to drink as much as I was. I was getting too hung over. So, I tried other things that would try to balance me out.

SANZ: He feels the need to sort of share what's happened to him in the hope that other people can see themselves in it and maybe get themselves some help.

COLLINS: Perry's cast members rallied around him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They completely embraced him, supported him. And, again, were very protective. Did not really address the topic with the media, except to say they supported Matthew and really glad he was getting better.

COLLINS: A camaraderie, they say, will outlast the life of their sitcom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them say even when the series ends, the friendship will remain and they will stay a big part of each other's lives.

COLLINS: Still to come on "PEOPLE IN THE NEWS," how will "Friends" say farewell?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): Just a few days from now, the last cup of coffee will be sipped in Central Perk. Apartments will be vacated for the last time. A familiar foosball table will be silent.

ANISTON: Finito. Enough.

COLLINS: After 10 seasons and over 200 episodes, "Friends" is coming to an end.

ROUSH: I don't think there has been a TV farewell since the end of "Seinfeld" that will be of this magnitude.

COLLINS: One friend will stick around. Matt Leblanc is bringing his character, Joey, to a spin-off series next season.

TUCKER: It makes sense for him to move to the West Coast and pursue his acting career. And in that sense, it's a lot better than a lot of shows. When they tried to spin-off "M.A.S.H." with the show "After M.A.S.H." and show the civilian lives of the "M.A.S.H", that was a disaster.

BRIGHT: Having a character like Matt and a character that the audience loves, I hate to say it, but it's ours to screw up.

COLLINS: For the rest of the cast, the challenge is to leave behind characters they've lived with a decade.

THOMPSON: The biggest risk they have to their careers is being forever becoming the character they played. When you are Henry Winkler you become Fonzi.

COLLINS: Plenty of television stars have tried to jump to the movies. Some make it, some don't.

ROZEN: When you're on television, people feel like they know you. They really feel comfortable with you. And they have to feel like they kind of know everything but. The secret to being a movie star is there's some little part of you that people don't know. They always want a little more. There's something just a little mysterious about you.

COLLINS: The track record for the "Friends" cast at the box office has been mixed at best. Matt Leblanc's monkey movie "Ed" was a critical and commercial bomb.

LEBLANC: Julie. Julie!

COLLINS: David Schwimmer's "The Pallbearer" was DOA.

SCHWIMMER: Look, lady, I'm not going to hit a girl, OK.

COLLINS: And Matthew Perry has appeared in a string of films including "Serving Sara" and "The Whole Nine Yards," none of which have made him an A-list movie star.

PERRY: You all right? Yes.

ROZEN: The guys are basically a washout as film actors. They have all tried and not one of them has whatever that movie magic thing is.

COLLINS: The women's film careers have gone considerably better. Courteney Cox had a string of hits with the "Scream" series.

COX: That would explain my constant headaches.

COLLINS: Jennifer Aniston hit box office gold with "Bruce Almighty."

ANISTON: I've never seen a moon that big.

COLLINS: And Lisa Kudrow received critical reviews for "Analyze This" and "The Opposite of Sex."

KUDROW: You're probably a blessing in disguise.

ROZEN: Lisa Kudrow is great in independent films. Jennifer Aniston I think is going to have a mid-level movie career as a leading lady.

COLLINS: "Friends," of course, will never go away completely.

THOMPSON: When we're up on housing developments on Neptune in the year 3003 or 3004, we will probably be watching old reruns of "Friends."

COLLINS: It will remain a slice of pop culture, a reflection of America at the turn of the 21st century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people might argue that "Friends" is somewhat overrated, that it gets a lot of acclaim and attention because of its popularity. But I think the show's popularity speaks to its quality.

THOMPSON: Just as the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" took and domesticated the women's movement, "Friends" really kind of presented what the model of the new American family could be to an emerging young generation that was going to postpone the traditional family of husband and in-laws and all the rest of it.

COLLINS: The "Friends" cast and crew taped the final episode in January.

SANZ: As they started taping they played the theme song and everybody in the audience applauded and the cast backstage got so emotional they started crying and they had to stop everything and go back and do makeup again.

COLLINS: The day had its light-hearted moments as well.

SANZ: Throughout the final taping everybody was a little nervous because they were all really conscious of what a big and momentous day it was. At one point Courteney Cox kept flubbing her lines and Matthew Perry joked "somebody is going to get fired," and the audience broke up laughing.

COLLINS: But the question remains, how will these six friends say goodbye?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can have real head-scratchers like the final episode of "Seinfeld." You can have these brilliant final episodes like the final episode of "Newhart" which was a dream, referring back to the old "Bob Newhart Show."

COLLINS: The expectations weighed on the show's creators as they work on the final season.

CRANE: We say it jokingly to each other but it's not a joke when you say, wow, this is our last first episode. This is our last Thanksgiving show. And there is an element of, it better be great.

KAUFFMAN: Better be really special.

CRANE: And obviously when we get to the finale when it's the last episode, yes. There's a tremendous amount of pressure to make it good.

COLLINS: How will "Friends" end?

CRANE: At the end of the day all we can do is do our best and try to come up with something that's funny and surprising and hopefully make people cry a little bit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: For the millions who love "Friends," the final laughs and tears come Thursday during a two-hour farewell event.

That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

Coming up next week, the legendary Carly Simon reflects on her life and her greatest hits. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. Stay with CNN for the very latest on what's happening in your world today.

ANNOUNCER: For more on Jennifer Aniston and the rest of the most beautif

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