Most Shocking Revelations From The “Friends” Book “I’ll Be There For You”
From September 1994 to May 2004 Friends ran for 10 successful seasons, yet more than 20 years since it began, the series is still one of the most iconic. The obsession with Friends hasn’t gone away because the show came to an end, and with streaming services such as Netflix in play, new generations are finding the show every day, but it is this undying popularity of the show that encouraged Kelsey Miller to write a book about it. In “I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends,” Miller goes behind the scenes of the show, and fans’ undying support of it to present some truly interesting findings. Here are the biggest and most surprising revelations from “I’ll Be There For You.”
14. Kauffman and Crane and The Changes
Although, as Miller points out in the book, the credit to Friends’ success always goes to its phenomenal six stars, it can’t be understated that it all began with Marta Kauffman and David Crane. The book offers a backstory to the beginning of Friends that many did not know. Yes, the series went through multiple name changes, but before that, Kauffman and Crane had to develop a show worthy of a title. Initially, the pair met as part of the theater scene in New York and stumbled into television, and had many TV flops and were close to giving up on TV writing before Friends was conceptualized. Along with title changes however, after NBC bought the script and pilot for what would become Friends, they insisted that Kauffman and Crane add an older character, “someone who could pop in every now and again and give some sage advice to these young folks,” and suggested that person as the coffeehouse owner or a cop. In response the pair wrote a script including “Pat the cop” but “hated the idea so much that they called the network and begged them to can the idea,” and instead compromised by giving more time to the parents and adding older guest-star appearances. Another change suggested would have been monumental — the network didn’t want a coffeehouse to be the central hangout. “You gotta remember what it was. Starbucks hadn’t really taken hold yet,” said showrunner Kevin Bright in the book. Miller added, “The network suggested the coffee shop be swapped out for a diner — much like another NBC sitcom [Seinfeld]. […] but Kauffman, Bright, and Crane pushed back on this, too, believing that audiences would somehow figure out what a coffeehouse was.” In the end the network relented and merely suggested that the couch color be changed from beige to the orange-red sofa that became iconic.
13. The Pilot
Despite putting Friends to pilot, many were still hesitant about just how successful the show would be, and before the pilot episode could even air, the network was having issues. After the first run-through of “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate” aka the beginning of it all, network executive Don Ohlmeyer had an issue with Monica sleeping with Paul the Wine Guy on the first date. “[He said,] ‘Well, what does that say about her? Doesn’t that say she’s a whore?'” At Ohlmeyer’s insistence a survey was handed out to test-audiences about what they thought of Monica’s first date sex, “it was clear Ohlmeyer wanted this storyline cut, and believed the audience would back him up,” but he was in for a surprise. “In the end, though, his survey backfired. The audience responded to the scandalous storyline with a resounding so what? They didn’t care. Monica was a hit.” With Friends being a staple in pop culture, it is incredible to go all the way back to the beginning and realize what a fine-line they were walking between the show fans know and love, and one that could have failed, as Miller wrote, “It took a fortuitous blend of talent, left turns, and elbow grease just to get the show up to this, its starting point.”
12. The Cast
As perhaps the most well-known cast around the world, another huge factor in the show’s success was bringing six relative unknowns and putting them together out of thousands of auditions. If just one casting had gone differently, everything would have changed. From the beginning, director James Burrows knew there was something special about the show and the cast and so after the pilot had been filmed, but before it aired, he asked the Warner Bros. higher-ups if he could have a plane and take all six to Las Vegas. He showed them the pilot on the plane and then took them out to dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant Spago. “Then, in the middle of dinner, Burrows held up his hands and said what he’d brought them here to say: ‘This is your last shot at anonymity.'” Of course, since the first episode hadn’t even aired yet, the six relative unknown stars were skeptical as Miller wrote, “Most new shows didn’t (still don’t) survive, and even the hits didn’t hit that hard.” Burrows had a feeling however and with most of the stars living on sparse bank accounts they wrote him checks and he gave them cash to hit the casinos, but they still didn’t believe they were about to become stars — and no one knew just how big they were going to get.
11. Muddling Through
By now, most Friends fans know that Courteney Cox was brought in to read for Rachel and Jennifer Aniston was brought in to read for Monica, but what many don’t know was that after the casting in their proper roles, Friends almost lost Aniston’s Rachel. In 1993-1994, Aniston was cast as one of the leads for a series on CBS called Muddling Through, and when it debuted “it wasn’t an immediate hit — nor was it an obvious flop.” Burrows then predicted that CBS would pick up the series for new episodes “just to throw a wrench into NBC’s buzzy new comedy by keeping Aniston occupied just long enough that she’d have to be recast. It worked. Bright, Kauffman, and Crane started scrambling around for a new Rachel.” For weeks Aniston drove between Warner Bros. and Sony Studios and begged to be let go of Muddling Through, and when cast photos for Friends came around “Aniston was gently asked to step out of some of the shots. That would make it easier if (when?) they found her replacement.” Eventually the president of NBC, Warren Littlefield, decided to take a huge gamble and wait for the demise of Muddling Through and keep Aniston in the cast. “On reflection, it might have been an even riskier move than Littlefield imagined. CBS was clearly willing to gamble, too, and had they raised the stakes again, that might been the end of Friends. At the very least, it would have been the end of Aniston’s tenure as Rachel.”
10. The Fountain
As became common in the beginning of Friends, the smallest decisions and changes would become the most important and as it turns out, the iconic fountain title sequence for the show was never supposed to be. The whole thing was actually supposed to be shot on a rooftop in L.A. that could pass for the New York skyline. Weather made the rooftop option impossible so instead Kevin Bright and Marta Kauffman went for a walk around the Warner Bros. ranch where they found a small park with a fountain and had an idea that it could pass for a spot in Central Park. Despite the finished product, after hours of playing in the water and being wet and cold, they weren’t having fun anymore and that is when Matthew Perry spoke up: “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t in the fountain.” Miller continued, “Perry kept it going, making jokes about how unbelievably uncomfortable they all were. Someone quickly got the camera rolling, capturing the six of them laughing like maniacs. Bright and the editing team would cut this into the iconic opening sequence, most of which turned out as planned — choreographed dance moves and glances at the camera. But those quick little snippets toward the end, when they’re splashing around, absolutely drenched and giggly — that’s just them, goofing around and trying to keep each other awake.”
9. Looking Back
As well as serving up anecdotes and secrets from behind the scenes of what went into creating friends, “I’ll Be There For You” looks at the show from a 2018 view, and what was “normal” or accepted back in 1994 has certainly changed. Oprah Winfrey was one of the first to point out that Friends severely lacked diversity in the cast while another major problem that many see with Friends now is that it was homophobic. While some believe that Carol and Susan were representative of “the only real element of diversity in the series,” many others saw it as simply offensive. In 2011, Tijana Mamula uploaded a 50 minute video titled Homophobic Friends which was an edited compilation of every gay joke made on Friends, and it could have been longer as she cut some out because they were repetitive. Another issue raised in the book was that of Fat Monica, who again was the butt of the joke. “Fat Monica is a polarizing character today, in an era when body positivity is a popular concept […] In all her appearances, Fat Monica is shoved through the same filter of acceptability as Carol and Susan, the married women who never kiss. Fat Monica is tolerable, as long as she’s a joke, just like the only other fat character on the show: Ugly Naked Guy.”
8. Second Season Backlash
After the uncertainty of season one, season two brought Friends and the cast into the spotlight like never before, and their salaries varied and they began to book commercials, photo shoots and promos. Then, Coca-Cola approached them with a $30 million campaign for Diet Coke to which Jennifer Aniston said, “It’s too much.”As it turns out they should have heeded Aniston’s feelings. After five weeks of hype and promotion that centered around viewers collecting Diet Coke caps with the characters’ names printed on it which would match with prizes aired during the week’s episode all leading up to the Super Bowl ad which would reveal who stole the Diet Cook from Monica’s apartment. While the ad worked for Coca-Cola which saw product sales spike, as Aniston predicted it was too much for viewers, and too much overexposure. “The Chicago Tribune dubbed it, ‘The One Where the Show Crosses the Line from Promiscuity into Prostitution,'” Miller recounted. In the end, the backlash was so severe from the show and the stars getting “too big too fast” that NBC proclaimed that there would be no more endorsement deals and less press for the stars. Bright spoke about his regrets, “I think it amounts to ‘be careful what you wish for,'” and while season one’s uncertainty was whether people would like the show, by the end of season two there was a fear they had already had enough of it all.
7. The One With the Embryos
When it comes to Friends, “The One With the Embryos” is often referred to as the best of all the episodes, as it is both the one in which Phoebe becomes implanted with the embryos for her brother and his wife, and it is the one with the trivia contest. Of course, this iconic episode has a great backstory which “began when Lisa Kudrow discovered she was pregnant.” Kaufmann and Crane knew they didn’t want to play the game of hiding the star’s ever-growing belly, and so they incorporated it with the wacky yet sweet storyline. When it comes to the trivia part of the episode, that was also drawn from reality. Miller revealed that Jill Condon and Amy Toomin Straus, who wrote the episode, got the idea from the co-producer Seth Kurland who told them about a group of writers he knew that hosted their own trivia night. The writers ran with the idea which eventually evolved into the epic contest between Monica and Rachel vs. Joey and Chandler, and “on shoot night, the audience was hooked from the start, the studio filled with a crackling energy.” Miller went on to reveal just how important that live audience was to the show. “The writers crafted the material, but the crowd decided whether or not it was good enough. If a joke didn’t yield the expected laugh, the writers huddled up, rewriting on the spot. The actors tried multiple line readings, listening to hear which one landed best.”
6. Carrying On
On September 27, 2001, Friends returned for its eighth season, but only a few weeks before there was no certainty that anything, even sitcom TV would return to normal again. The September 11th attacks impacted everyone and everything, including Friends. “It wasn’t easy for anyone. Back at Warner Bros., Kauffman, Bright, and Crane had an exceptional challenge on their hands: What do you do with a sitcom set in downtown Manhattan, when downtown Manhattan is now Ground Zero? Not just any sitcom, but one that deliberately avoided certain realities — specifically, death,” Miller wrote. In the end, they decided to honor the victims and New York with visual cues instead of a “special episode” and it turned out what audiences wanted after the event and the continuous news coverage was a diversion, even in the form of a thirty minute sitcom. “On September 27, Friends debuted its eighth season to an enormous audience — its largest since the Super Bowl episode five years prior,” Miller wrote, revealing that season eight possibly could have been its last, but audiences, specifically American audiences needed it to continue. “If the attack hadn’t happened, then Friends would have continued its gentle decline. Instead, it was revived by the tens of millions who turned to it for comfort, distraction, escape, hope. Suddenly, the show had reason to go on.”
5. Joey and Rachel
Season nine of Friends was a very last minute decision, and was so unexpected it prompted a joint statement from the cast, Warner Bros. and NBC all insisting that season nine would be the last. Of course when season nine did return, it had its highs, and perhaps the show’s biggest low: Joey and Rachel. While fans obviously didn’t like the coupling, it actually started with the cast. “When Kauffman and Crane first approached the cast in Season Eight with the idea of Joey falling in love with Rachel, everybody balked. LeBlanc said it felt incestuous (especially uncomfortable after so many years of cultivating a brotherly bond with the female characters,” Miller revealed of the star’s initial reactions. As it turns out, everyone even Kauffman and Crane only made the decision because it was season nine and they could do what they not, knowing full-well it wasn’t the story fans wanted to see. “With the end of the series approaching, they had to be vigilant. But they needed something to keep Ross and Rachel apart just a bit longer, and at this point it would take a big something. Kauffman and Crane understood that the Joey-Rachel relationship would end before it really began. They would never have sex or say the L-word; that would be too much tor recover from. Once they actually hooked up, the characters (like the audience) would be too weirded out, and preoccupied with Ross.”
4. The Bargaining Table
Unsurprisingly, one of the main themes throughout Miller’s “I’ll Be There For You” is the fact that the six stars were indeed friends off-screen, but to what extent, many may not realize. The strength of their camaraderie began on day three of shooting the pilot when Courteney Cox told everyone that the trick to success is to “all help each other,” which included giving suggestion and taking notes from each other without offense. “Normally there’s a code with actors. We don’t give each other notes under any circumstances, and we don’t comment on each other’s performances,” Miller quoted Lisa Kudrow as saying, but when they all agreed to it, it formed a bond and chemistry rarely seen before or after between a cast. That bond would serve them well for many things, but it became most important at the bargaining table. After season two, Schwimmer’s agents urged him to ask for a raise, instead he approached his castmates asking them to all ask for a raise, the same raise. “Schwimmer poured his own leverage into the collective pot, using it to unify and strengthen the group.” What many don’t realize is that when all six stars approached asking for $100,000 per episode plus a share of the revenue when the show went into syndication, the network pushed back in a big way and threatened to fire Matt LeBlanc. Instead, the actors went back to work and shot the first half of season three without contracts. After six months they all reached a deal, the same deal. “That was the deal that changed everything, setting a precedent for future negotiations on other shows, and solidifying Friends as something more than a faddish hit. The actors themselves now realized that whatever power they had as individuals it was nothing compared to their strength as a group. From then on, they agreed, any decisions they could make together they would make together, whether it came to money, publicity, or their continued participation in the show. Even when it came to awards, they would all submit themselves int he same category: supporting, not lead. They made it known to the producers and networks that if one was fired, they would all leave.”
3. Saying Goodbye
As fans know now, when season nine “the final season” came to an end, NBC couldn’t fathom losing its juggernaut, and six months after insisting season nine would be the last, season ten rumors surfaced. The cast were torn on whether to return and eventually in late December, at the last hour of the last day possible, NBC reached an agreement with the cast and crew and season 10 was born. On January 16, 2004 they came together for the first day of filming “The Last One” and finally it was realized that the end had come. “Already the makeup touch-ups were taking forever, what with all the welling eyes and nose-blowing. That’s when LeBlanc realized something. He turned to his castmates and said: ‘Do you realize this is the last coffee ship scene?’ And everyone lost it,” Miller shared of the real emotion behind the last days of filming. A week later they returned for the last day of filming, and this time it was Courteney Cox, the “stalwart professional” who couldn’t get through one of her lines. “Watching her, their ballast, struggling with the ending, the weight of the moment sunk in deeper. The purple walls were stripped bare, ready to be taken down […] Cox missed the line again, as a brutal tension filled the room. Once more, Matthew Perry stepped in to shatter it: ‘Somebody is gonna get fired.’ A familiar trick but it worked like new. Cox said her line, then they said the rest of them, and then there was nothing left on the page.” Miller revealed that the show really did come full circle, 10 years before that last scene they had stood together, united struggling through the taping of the fountain scene when Perry’s humor came to the rescue, and they ended the same way: struggling through a difficult taping, bonded together and relying on each other and Perry’s humor to get through.
2. Lyle v. Warner Bros.
With “I’ll Be There For You” being published in 2018, the Me Too movement is well heard of and known, but in the Friends era, that was when the women coming forward now were silenced. As Miller revealed, back in 1999, Friends was at the center of a similar case behind the scenes when Amaani Lyle who had been hired as a writers’ assistant launched a case of being exposed to harassment and believed she was fired on the basis of gender and race discrimination. When hired in 1999, her job was to type very fast and record what the writers said while brainstorming in the writers’ room, what she heard though, was not related to the show, for the most part. According to Lyle she sat through numerous brainstorming meetings where the writers’ graphically talked about their sexual experiences, “pretended to jerk off constantly” and make racist jokes. “Lyle said, ‘I was constantly being exposed to writers and producers making statements and comments that had nothing to do with the Friends television show, that were offensive because they were racist, sexist and obscene.'” She was told not to include some of their personal stories into her notes, “So, it seemed there was a line, somewhere, between the creative process and the so-called locker room talk. Though, even when talking about characters, it wasn’t always clear what constituted work. Lyle claimed that one of the writers frequently fantasized about an episode where Joey would sneak up on Rachel in the shower, then rape her,” Miller shared of Lyle’s story. After four months Lyle was fired, and she then launched her case only to lose it in 2006, which became a landmark ruling, though few knew about it and fewer knew it was in relation to the biggest show on television.
1. The Non-Reunion
Through the good times and the bad, Miller’s main point in “I’ll Be There For You” is that no matter how much time goes by Friends will always be there for you. Fans return to it as their “comfort-food” of shows, while generations who weren’t even born when it first aired are discovering it, and loving it for the first time thanks to syndication and streaming services. Still, one thing everyone wants is a reunion, but that is one thing they shouldn’t hold their breath on. Kauffman revealed that people ask her every day if Friends will comeback and Crane said, “We ended right. It felt right… I think all the people who say, ‘Oh, I want to see them again!’ You really don’t. And I think they would turn on us on a dime.” Miller added, “Crane’s advice: the story has been told, from beginning to end. If you want to revisit, it’s all right there for you, in reruns. ‘Watch those! We did it!'”