28 Fascinating Facts About Friends
Nearly 25 years ago, on September 22, 1994, Friends made its NBC debut and forever changed the face of American sitcoms. In addition to turning its six stars—Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer—into household names (and eventually some of the highest-paid actors in television history), the series actually helped to get Mental Floss off the ground (more on that later). Here's a look back at the series that still dominates Netflix's streaming library
1. Friends was originally called Insomnia Café (and a bunch of other things).
In the early 1990s, Friends co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman wrote a seven-page pitch for a new sitcom titled Insomnia Café. In addition to the different title, the plot itself was quite different from what came to be known as Friends. For example, Ross and Rachel weren't the key relationship; instead, Joey and Monica were supposed to be love interests.
After NBC bought the pilot, the title became Friends Like Us. NBC president Warren Littlefield came up with another title that was also considered, Across the Hall. By the time they shot it, the title had switched again to Six of One. When the show premiered on September 22, 1994, they had finally landed on simply Friends.
2. The cast could have been completely different.
With a cast of six people, it’s not a surprise that many different actors were considered for each role. For example, Kathy Griffin and Jane Lynch actually became friends after meeting while both were auditioning for the part of Phoebe.
Both Jon Favreau and Jon Cryer were considered for the role of Chandler before it went to Matthew Perry, but Perry almost didn’t get the gig either. During the 1994 pilot season, he filmed the pilot for a show called LAX 2194 in addition to Friends. The show would have been about baggage handlers at LAX who sorted aliens’ luggage. Thankfully, it wasn’t picked up, and Perry was able to take the Friends gig.
Before the show premiered, Courteney Cox was probably the most famous cast member. She was known for many commercials plus Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video. The Friends producers originally asked her to play Rachel, but she requested the role of Monica because she liked the “strong” character.
3. The role of Ross Geller was written for David Schwimmer.
This may come as a surprise because Eric McCormack (best known as Will of Will & Grace) made news when he said that he auditioned “two or three times” for Ross. But, executive producer Kevin Bright had worked with Schwimmer before, so the writers were already developing Ross’s character in Schwimmer’s voice. And indeed, Schwimmer was the first person cast on the show.
4. The opening credits were not shot in New York.
Don’t let your New York City tour guide trick you into thinking that you’re looking at the fountain from the iconic opening credits of Friends—unless you’ve brought your tour guide with you to Burbank for some reason. Although the fountain looks a lot like Central Park's Pulitzer Fountain, the actual shoot occurred on a Warner Bros. lot.
5. The cast took a trip to Las Vegas together before the show aired.
Director James Burrows, who went on to direct a handful of episodes for the show between 1995 and 1997, brought the six cast members to Vegas because he “had a feeling about the show.” While they were at Caesar’s Palace, he encouraged the group to enjoy themselves. “This is your last shot at anonymity,” Burrows told them. “Once the show comes on the air, you guys will never be able to go anywhere without being hounded.” (Friends fans might remember Caesar’s Palace as the place Ross and Rachel got married on a whim in the fifth season finale.)
6. Monica was an early Mental Floss fan.
In the 2003 episode "The One With the Soap Opera Party," Monica is shown casually reading a new magazine called Mental Floss while hanging out at Central Perk. We really owe David Arquette a lifetime of gratitude because he's the one who made it happen. "I thought it was so interesting," Arquette told Entertainment Weekly at the time, "[so] I gave it to Courteney" for the show.
7. Lisa Kudrow didn't know how to play guitar.
"I didn’t like the guitar," Lisa Kudrow later recalled about Phoebe Buffay's chosen musical instrument. "I wasn’t getting it. So I think I even asked, ‘What if she plays the bongos?'" They ended up bringing a guitar teacher in, but that didn’t last long. Kudrow learned a couple of chords, then announced that she was done with the lessons. She decided that Phoebe would only know a handful of chords anyway. And thank goodness because “Smelly Cat” is perfect just the way it is.
8. It was filmed in front of a live audience—except for cliffhangers.
Shooting an episode of Friends was a lengthy process, typically lasting five hours, with multiple takes per scene and 20 minutes between scenes to change sets. Still, the show was filmed in front of a live audience made up of 300 fans. And that’s the way the cast preferred it. “It’s kind of like a test to see if the material works, if the jokes work, if the story tracks,” LeBlanc said. Perry agreed, “Our energy just elevates every time there’s an audience.”
So, what wasn’t filmed in front of a live audience? One example is the cliffhanger in the season four finale, “The One With Ross’s Wedding.” At the end of the episode, Ross is about to marry Emily, but accidentally says Rachel’s name at the altar. “We couldn’t have an audience for that,” Aniston said. “We always remove the audience for the cliffhangers because, obvious reasons, you don’t want to spoil it.”
9. Many people, including Lisa Kudrow, thought that Chandler was gay.
Kudrow said that she was surprised to hear Perry’s interpretation of Chandler at the first table read because when she first read the script, she thought Chandler was supposed to be gay. And she wasn’t the only one. During the first few seasons of the show, many fans speculated about Chandler’s sexual orientation. In 1997, David Crane told Entertainment Weekly, “No, Chandler isn’t gay. Nor will he be gay.”
10. They were the first TV cast to negotiate as a group.
During the first season, each cast member was receiving around $22,000 per episode. But allegedly, by the second season, each actor had a slightly different salary. In 1997, all six cast members refused to work until they all earned an equal salary of $100,000 per episode. This was big news. “Stars of hit shows often threaten to boycott their series in pursuit of higher salaries," The New York Times reported. "What is unusual is this cast’s effort to use solidarity as leverage."
This negotiation worked very well. By the final season, each cast member was earning $1 million per episode.