Friends started as just another sitcom on American television, but ten years later became a pop culture phenomenon that cemented itself into TV history as one of the most loved shows of all time.
Even two decades after Friends aired its final episode in 2004, it is considered a ‘cultural artifact’. Forever Geek presents a complete guide to Friends, with everything you need to know about the six pals and delving deep into what made the show one of the most popular TV sitcoms of all time.
The One With The Beginning
NBC’s Friends went through a significant number of changes even before it began. The show was even originally named Insomnia Cafe in November 1993, and it’s hard to imagine whether it would have been as watchable with that title.
Not only that, but the main love interest of the show was initially built around Joey and Monica and not Rachel and Ross (Could this be any more mind-boggling?).
But after the changes were fixed, creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman presented NBC with a sitcom about six friends that will solidify as a hallmark of American comedy in Television history.
The One With The Friendship
It’s rather easy to describe what makes Friends a timeless watch for generations from millennials and now Gen Z. It is the friendship of six people, all oddballs, who try to navigate the daily ups and downs of life, while living in New York City. Even the lyrics to the theme song plays true to what the characters face in the episodes, and you can’t help but sing along (and do the clap) when you hear it.
Here’s the famous title track: “So no one told you life was gonna be this way/ Your job’s a joke, you’re broke/ Your love life’s DOA/ It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear/ When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month/ Or even your year, but I’ll be there for you when the rain starts to pour/ I’ll be there for you like I have been there before.”
But along with the on-screen tight-knit bond of six friends – Monica, Rachel, Ross, Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler – what stood out for the viewers is how the cast formed real bonds off-screen. Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry also unitedly stood with each other for equality. In season 3 when the cast demanded an equal payment of $100,00 for each episode. Then in the final season, they were paid $1 million, which turned them into one of the highest-paid casts in TV history.
The One With The Cast
David Crane and Marta Kauffman chose six lesser-known actors for Friends. They were Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, and Matthew Perry, who became household names across the globe.
Jennifer Aniston as Rachel
It is impossible to imagine any other actress who could have done justice to the character of Rachel better than Jennifer Aniston, but she was actually replaced twice during filming. The clueless ‘daddy’s girl’ who ran away from her own wedding undergoes a huge transformation spanning the series. After stumbling across her former school friend Monica in the city after her runaway bride fiasco in season 1, episode 1, she eventually became a successful career woman who knew exactly what she wants in her life a decade later.
The tumultuous love story of Rachel and Ross also sparked major debates, were they really on a break? Yes? No? Did Ross ever read all 18 pages, “FRONT AND BACK?”. What if Rachel had chosen Joey as her endgame instead? After years of debate, Aniston answered one of the major questions about who would have been Rachel’s ideal partner, and if Joey ever had a chance.
“I just don’t think Joey and Rachel could have made it. I think it was more physical than emotional with them,” she said in an interview. “They were friends with benefits, and they left it at that. It was Ross and Rachel all the way.
“I really believe that if there’s an afterworld of Friends, they’re still thriving. Don’t you?”
Courteney Cox as Monica
Courteney Cox’s Monica Geller aka the high-maintenance best friend of Rachel and Ross’s sister was considered the linchpin of the group, whose obsessive cleaning and attention to detail turned annoying to endearing as the show progressed.
The character of Monica is close to Courteney even two decades later as she ‘proved‘ in a reel how she is the real life clean-freak Monica Geller with an obsessive need to be organized. In an interview, she once revealed, “I’m not a germ freak at all, but I am absolutely a clean freak. I love organization.”
But it almost never came to be, as Courteney actually went for the role of Rachel first, before the show decided to give her a shot as Monica instead. We can’t imagine anyone else now.
David Schwimmer as Ross
Ross, the nerdy one, was always meant to be played by David Schwimmer. Martha Kaufmann once said how they wrote the character keeping Schwimmer in mind, however it was not easy to get the actor on board, apparently.
“We had seen David for another role in a different show, and remembered him, so when we started creating Friends Ross was in our minds,’ explains Kaufmann. “But we had to send him gift baskets (to convince him)!”
Crane further revealed: “He had quit TV. He’d had a miserable experience on another show so he moved back to Chicago to just do theatre. We had to beg him and beseech him and say we wrote the part for him! We assured him this was going to be different from his other experience.”
Matthew Perry as Chandler
Chandler is easily one of the most relatable characters of Friends, the one whose on-point of sarcasm mixed with tinge bit of existentialism can be found in each of us. Perry has also been vocal about how Friends ‘saved’ him from real life obstacles showing him a better way of living.
In his memoir, Perry detailed his struggle with addiction and alcoholism and how the cast of Friends “were understanding and patient” through his journey as he reached sobriety eventually. The actor recalls, “Season 9 was the year that I was sober the whole way through. And guess which season I got nominated for best actor? I was like, that should tell me something.”
Matt LeBlanc as Joey
The ‘heartthrob’ of Friends aka Joey Tribbiani helped Matt LeBlanc reach popularity like no other as he bagged a spin-off show called Joey right after Friends wrapped up. Years later, LeBlanc also took on another project titled Episodes where he plays the role of an actor called Matt LeBlanc who acted in Friends.
LeBlanc has talked about the impact of Friends in his career gushing: “Television has that weird thing. You see a character in a multitude of situations over so many years, and you can’t help but think that that is who that guy must be.”
Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe
Lisa Kudrow made Phoebe Buffay come to real life and even her real life pregnancy shaped a major plot point of the show. When Lisa was pregnant, the writers worked around it in the script and created the storyline of her having his brother’s triplets as a surrogate in season four.
While Phoebe’s iconic lines from the show will always be close to fans’ hearts, the actress has once opened up about how difficult it was for her to portray the complex character.
“[I felt like], ‘S**t, I tricked them at the audition. I was the only one who could cope with the audition process and that’s how I got it’. So I had to work hard at being Phoebe. And then, like, third season in, I was struggling so much,” she shared.
Kudrow also revealed how LeBlanc supported her during the difficult time by telling her: “You’re her. Relax. You got it. You’ve been doing this f****** character for three years. You’re working too hard. That’s your problem. You don’t need to work as hard. Relax.’”
Interestingly, the cast brainstormed an idea for Joey and Phoebe to have a secret affair and even thought up ways for reshoots in which their love could have been revealed, but the idea was sadly shot down by the showrunners.
The One With All The Guest Cameos On Friends
Friends brought some of the heavyweight Hollywood superstars to play hilarious cameos in the show. From Jennifer Aniston’s former partner Brad Pitt to Julia Roberts. Here are some of the most iconic cameos of Friends that elevated the episodes.
Whilst fans adore all of these Friends cameos, one star who wanted to be on the show sadly never got his chance. It turns out that singer Justin Timberlake personally requested a role in the show, but the creators couldn’t think of a way for JT to fit in.
Casting miracles, a bond like no other, and a story of true friendship remains timeless. Friends cracked the secret of success in pop culture and created a legacy that is impossible to replicate, and that is just how it keeps thriving as one of the comfort watch for millions worldwide.
The One With The Global Streaming Rights
The home of Friends for fans wanting to stream the series from around the world is Netflix.
In the United States, Netflix is available from:
In the UK, fans can gain access to all episodes of Friends via:
You can also purchase individual seasons of the show through Amazon, Apple TV, Microsoft, Sky Store, Google Play, BT, and Virgin Media.
The One With The Reunion Special
In November 2019, Warner Bros was reported to be developing a Friends reunion for HBO Max, with the special episode being filmed at Stage 24 in LA in April 2021.
The Reunion was aired on May 27, 2021 and according to TV data analytics by TVision, the special was watched by an estimated 29% of American households!
Per the report, half of the Reunion viewers were aged 25-54 and were predominantly female (55.4%); Antenna would later claim that the special drove more new subscriptions than any Warner Bros movie that year.
The special was hosted by James Cordon and featured a host of celebrity guests including David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, Cindy Crawford, Cara Delevingne, and Lady Gaga.
The One With The Long Filming Shoots
Whilst each episode of Friends is around 22-minutes in length, filming was often halted mid-scene so that the actors and writers could punch up the script – to the point that some episodes took over six hours to film.
The National Enquirer explained in 2002 how “The Friends taping also is memorable for another reason — the six hours needed to tape the 22-minute show. The retakes and rewrites make it twice the length of most sitcom tapings.”
In fact, the audience “sit so long that they pass out pizzas to the audience” with reporter John Kiesewetter sharing how this actually happened twice on the same day when he visited the set.
Thankfully, the in-studio audience were kept entertained by stand-up comics whilst the writers are busy improving scripts. Comedian Jim Bentley, who used to entertain the 300-member studio audience between takes, shared how “What makes it long are the rewrites, that’s what makes this show good.”
The One With The Full Episode Count
Between its season 1 debut in 1994 to the season 10 finale in 2004, the Friends TV show includes 236 individual episodes:
Going purely on the viewers and the data at the time, the most-watched season of Friends was season 2 at 31.7 million viewers; the second highest was season 8.
The One With The ‘Pathetic, Mopey Character’
Following the season 10 finale of Friends, Matt LeBlanc signed on for a spin-off series focusing on his character Joey’s move to Los Angeles. The first episode from the spin-off title was watched by over 18 million people in the US; however, the average viewership steadily declined over each episode.
After the second season wrapped up, NBC had had enough and pulled the plug; which executive producer of the original show Kevin Bright claimed was due to his character development moving in the wrong direction.
“On Friends Joey was a womaniser but we enjoyed his exploits. He was a solid friend, a guy you knew you could count on,” Bright says. “Joey was deconstructed to be a guy who couldn’t get a job, couldn’t ask a girl out. He became a pathetic, mopey character. I felt he was moving in the wrong direction, but I was not heard.”