For 25 years now, Friends has been there for you when the rain starts to pour and you need to spend a few hours curled up in front of the television. The beloved sitcom officially celebrates its silver anniversary on 22 September, and the planned festivities include a theatrical release of select episodes (in America), a coffee-tastic Lego set and a pop-up recreation of iconic sets.
The Tribeca TV Festival got in on the celebration as well, organising a 25th anniversary event with Friends creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, as well as executive producer and frequent director, Kevin S. Bright. Yahoo was in the audience when the trio took the stage after screening a pair of classic episodes — “The One With the Embryos” and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out” — and shared behind-the-scenes stories from Friends’s decade-long run.
The one where Chandler and Monica never ended up together
Here’s one reason to miss the days when almost all network comedies were taped in front of a live studio audience: it’s thanks to them that Chandler Bing and Monica Geller (Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox) walked down the aisle and into TV history as one of the best-ever sitcom couples. Crane and Kauffman revealed that they never intended the two to reach a happily ever after ending — a path that started in the Season 4 finale when the unlikely couple ended up in bed together after a hard day’s night of drinking during Ross’s problem-plagued London wedding. “When we started writing it, we never intended [for Monica and Chandler] to end up in a love relationship,” Kaufman said. “We thought it was going to be one of those stupid things they did one night, and the fun that we could have with the awkwardness between them and how that would affect their friendship.”
But the way the studio audience reacted when Monica popped up from under the covers of Chandler’s bed — seriously, just listen to them — told them that this was much more than a one night stand gag. “The initial reaction was tipping to something much bigger ahead,” remembered Bright, who directed that episode. “There were 500 people in that studio and they did not stop screaming for a minute. Matthew Perry was just holding in his next line.” Even then, Crane assumed that Season 5 would start with them acknowledging the awkwardness of the Chandler-Monica coupling and then moving on, but the fallout from that incident just kept generating story ideas.
“It just kept giving us places to go. If something looked like it was really going to become a motor for stories, it was great.” Kauffman adds that the unexpected romance also pointed towards an overall change in the show. “Monica and Chandler getting together was somewhat indicative of the show growing up. Chandler was no longer afraid of commitment, and Monica could find someone. It’s part of the maturation of any show.”
No sex please, they’re Friends
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly recently, Crane revealed that former NBC head Don Meyer vocally objecting to a storyline in the show’s pilot where Monica sleeps with Paul the Wine Guy on their first date, only to discover that he had lied his way into bed.
“[Meyer] felt that Monica got what she deserved for sleeping with a guy on the first date," Kauffman remarked at the panel. “They did a survey to find out how people felt about that. Did they think she was (A) a trollop, (B) a slut or (D) none of the above? And nobody cared! Part of what we had to do to make it work was to really make sure she was invested in Paul, so it wasn’t just a guy she was going out on a date with. I think that was another adjustment we made.”
That was far from the only time that NBC got involved in the sexual lives of the six friends. “We had an episode [Season 2’s “The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies”] where Monica and Rachel were arguing over who gets to use the last condom,” Kauffman remembered. “Both of them wanted to have sex that night, they were both in relationships, it was a big night for both of them — and there was one condom left. We could show the box, we could shake the box so you could hear the condom, but we couldn’t show the foil packet and we couldn’t say condom.”
Crane said that he was the one who often dealt with the network’s standards and practices department when storylines like that came up, and the conversations frequently left his head spinning. “It was this crazy world. When we first started, you could say ‘penis,’ and then about three years in they decided you couldn’t say ‘penis.’ And then penis came back in Season 7! We would deliberately put in excess stuff so we could say, ‘OK if you give us the penis, we will take out the two ‘damns’ and the ‘vagina.’”
Lisa Kudrow wasn’t an Ursula stan
Phoebe and Ursula Buffay are technically twins in the world of Friends, but in real-world chronology Ursula is 11 months older than her sister. Lisa Kudrow made her first appearance as Ursula on an October 1993 episode of the hit NBC series Mad About You — nearly a year before Phoebe arrived on the scene. Midway through Friends’s freshman year, Crane and Kauffman had the crazy idea to bring them into the same frame in the two-part episode, “The One With Two Parts.”
“She was on a show that was on NBC at the time, and she was still doing that show,” Kauffman explained. “So we thought, ‘Why pretend?’” Working in their favour was the fact that Crane had a personal connection to Mad About You in the form of his husband, Jeffrey Klarik, who was a writer on the Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson-created series. “We had to go to them and get their permission and amazingly, because of that relationship, they said, ‘Yes.’ I mean, I wouldn’t let anyone do that with a character on our show! But they were incredibly generous and let us do it, which is nuts.”
According to Bright, though, it sound like Kudrow would have been just as happy if the Mad About You guys had said, “No.” “The thing about those episodes was that Lisa really did not have a good time doing them. She did not like acting with a double, and I think in a way she might have made it more difficult for herself, because her double was her actual sister [Helene Marla]. Feeling the pain that she put her sister into by being the double was more in her head at that time. So those scenes were a little tricky to shoot, but ended up being a lot of fun.”
Casting the Ugly Naked Guy was a breeze
For decades, nobody knew the identity of the actor who played the Ugly Naked Guy — Monica and Rachel’s nudity-happy neighbour who was much-discussed, but rarely seen. But then in 2016, HuffPost reporter, Todd Van Luling, cracked the case wide open, speaking directly with Jon Haugen, who bared his naked back in two episodes: “The One With the Giant Poking Device” and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out.”
As Kauffman remembered, finding Haugen the first time around wasn’t an especially involved process. “Surprisingly, there are people who want to play Ugly Naked Guy. [For the audition], they didn’t have any lines, it was just about physically what did we imagine.” Added Crane: “Nobody had to disrobe. They just walked in the room, said ‘Hi’ and we picked one.” Bright reminded the crowd to check the DVD extras for a “Everybody Finds Out” deleted scene where you get to see David Schwimmer’s Ross join Haugen in some ugly naked cavorting. “We must have decided it was funnier if you didn’t see it on the air.”
The Friends are never, ever getting back together
Sorry fans: if you want more Friends, you’re gonna have to watch Joey. Kauffman and Crane dashed any hopes of a reunion or revival. “We will not be doing a reunion show, we will not be doing a reboot,” Kauffman said emphatically. “This is a show about that time in your life when your friends are your family, and once you start having family that changes. So it wouldn’t be what’s at the heart of the show anymore.”
Beyond that, Crane suggested that turning the period of the original series finale into an ellipses wouldn’t benefit the show or the fans. “We really feel like we did the show we wanted to do. We got it right, and put the bow on it we wanted to put. If you visited those characters now, it would just have a different DNA. It wouldn’t be the same show and chances are it wouldn’t be as good a show.”
That said, they are willing to entertain thoughts about where the characters are today. When an audience member asked whether Ross and Rachel are still together or on another one of their famous breaks, Kauffman reassured him that their happy ending still stands. “I do think Ross and Rachel had a great relationship — I believe in their future.”
By Ethan Alter, Yahoo Entertainment
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