Friends premiered on September 22nd, 1994. It’s hard to believe that exactly two decades have passed since the influential television show hit the airwaves, making Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox and Matthew Perry household names. In 1994, the internet was still in its infancy, high-definition television was still in the future, and smartphones were a product of science fiction.
Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, Friends ran for ten years on NBC from 1994 to 2004. Crane and Kaufman initially called the series, Insomnia Cafe, wrote a seven page treatment and presented it to the network. An initial pilot script was written that included several changes from the treatment, including the series’ title. Insomnia Cafe was changed to Friends Like Us, and finally, it was changed to just Friends.
The series, revolving around a group of friends in Manhattan, received positive reviews throughout its ten-year run and was a staple of NBC’s popular Must See TV Thursday night lineup, alongside such other primetime powerhouse shows as Seinfeld, Frasier, Will & Grace and ER.
It’s hard to pick a favorite episode from the ten seasons of Friends. The plotlines stayed strong throughout and were at their best following the ongoing relationship changes within the group; Ross and Rachel, Joey and Rachel, Chandler and Janice, Monica and Chandler, Ross and his ex-wife, Carol, the lesbian, Phoebe and Gary the cop, Phoebe and Mike Hannigan, Ross’s wedding in England… all of it was water cooler discussion material for the world on Friday mornings.
Like Seinfeld before it, Friends changed American culture, inventing and defining buzz words and concepts that ingratiated themselves into American life whether you watched the show or not. A haircut simply called “The Rachel” swept the nation that copied Aniston’s hairstyle from the show. “How you doin’?,” Joey’s pick-up-line became a standard greeting for all guys who didn’t know what to say when confronted with a pretty girl. Phrases like “Drink the fat,” “Ugly naked guy,” “We were on a break!” and “Pivot!” became cultural touchstones.
During its run, Friends introduced us to a slew of recurring characters, and a guest star list that could rival any movie theater marquee. Elliot Gould played Ross and Monica’s father, Jack Gellar. James Michael Tyler was Gunther, the manager of the famous Central Perk coffee shop. Paul Rudd played Mike Hannigan. Tom Selleck was Richard. Giovanni Ribisi was Phoebe’s brother, Frank. Aisha Tyler was Charlie. Cole Sprouse played Ross’s son, Ben. Jon Favreau was Pete Becker. Elle Macpherson starred as Janine Lacroix. Hank Azaria was David. Morgan Fairchild was Chandler’s mother, Nora, and Kathleen Turner was Chandler’s cross-dressing father, Charles. Terri Garr played Phoebe’s mother. Brad Pitt was Will Colbert. George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Gary Oldman, Reese Witherspoon, Bruce Willis, Dermot Mulrooney… and the list goes on and on.
When the Friends finale aired in January of 2004, it was the fourth most-watched series finale in television history. Instead of doing something “high concept,” Crane, Kauffman and executive producer Kevin S. Bright wanted to stick to the story arcs they’d put in place over ten successful seasons.
In the end, Ross runs after Rachel when she leaves for Paris, and they declare their love for each other. Chandler and Monica adopt not one child, but a set of twins, and decide to move to the suburbs. Joey freaks out that everyone is leaving the city, and Phoebe and her new husband Mike presumably live happily ever after.
The last shots of the series include the group members placing their apartment keys on the counter in the apartment and walking out the door.
Reviews for the finale went from mixed to good. David Schwimmer, who played Ross, told the SF Gate that he was happy with the way the show ended.
“It’s exactly what I had hoped. We all end up with a sense of a new beginning and the audience has a sense that it’s a new chapter in the lives of all these characters.”
After Friends ended, the cast members went their separate ways.
Even discounting her high-profile marriage and divorce from Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston’s superstardom skyrocketed into the Hollywood stratosphere.
Courteney Cox has remained relevant on television with her hit show, Cougar Town.
Lisa Kudrow went on to be a successful producer, writer and actor in a number of television series’ and films.
After Friends ended, Matt LeBlanc attempted a Friends spinoff called Joey, which showcased the Joey Tribbiani character trying to further his acting career in Los Angeles. The show was canceled after 46 episodes. He continues to appear in bit parts on TV and in the movies.
David Schwimmer went on to direct and star in a number of plays and films. His most notable role since Friends is probably as the voice of Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe in the Madagascar animated film series.
Matthew Perry, whose weight loss was the subject of much discussion midway through the run of Friends, completed a 28-day rehab program for an addiction to Vicodin, Methadone, amphetamines and alcohol in 2001, according to CBS News. After Friends ended, Perry turned in a stellar performance on the NBC drama, The West Wing, and went on to star in Aaron Sorkin’s ill-fated dramady, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Yet this year, Perry is set to star as Oscar Madison in ABC’s remake of The Odd Couple.
Twenty years ago today, Friends started a ten-year laugh affair with America and the world, and twenty years later, Friends can still make us laugh. What was your favorite moment from Friends?
image via topwall