25 Things You Might Not Know About Friends
The first episode of Friends aired 20 years ago today. Here's a look back at the series that helped get mental_floss off the ground.
1. The show was originally called Insomnia Café ... and a bunch of other things.
In the early '90s, the creators of Friends, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, wrote a seven-page pitch for Insomnia Café. In addition to the different title, the plot itself was quite different from what we know 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 much 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. And 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 was written for David Schwimmer.
This may come as a surprise because Eric McCormack, the 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 shot at Warner Bros studio, not Gramercy Park or Central Park.
Don’t let your NYC tour guide trick you into thinking that you’re looking at the fountain from the iconic opening credits featuring “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts. Unless you’ve brought your tour guide with you to Burbank for some reason. Although the fountain looks a lot like Pulitzer Fountain in Central Park, the actual shoot occurred on a Warner Bros. lot.
5. The cast went on a Vegas trip 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,” he 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. Lisa Kudrow hated playing guitar at first.
Kudrow later recalled, “I didn’t like the guitar. 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.
7. 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 in Central Perk. We really owe David Arquette a lifetime subscription, because he's the one who made it happen. "I thought it was so interesting," he told Entertainment Weekly at the time, "[so] I gave it to Courteney" for the show.
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,” said LeBlanc. 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, they were each 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. The New York Times reported, “Stars of hit shows often threaten to boycott their series in pursuit of higher salaries. 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.
11. The apartment numbers switched during the series.
At the beginning of the series, Monica’s door had the number 5 on it. The producers later realized that didn’t make sense as Monica lived on a higher floor. They changed her apartment number to 20. The number on Chandler’s apartment changed as well—from 4 to 19.
12. Phoebe Buffay’s twin sister, Ursula, was also a character on Mad About You.
Kudrow was already playing Ursula the waitress on Mad About You when she was cast on Friends. NBC and Mad About You encouraged Kudrow to take both roles. According to her, it was the producers of Friends who decided to “address this and say they're twin sisters.” She went on to play Ursula Buffay in eight episodes of Friends as well.
13. Kudrow’s pregnancy was written into the show, but Cox’s was not.
Kudrow got pregnant with her son, Julian Murray, in 1997. Kudrow was dubious about Phoebe getting pregnant too, but the writers decided to have Phoebe act as a surrogate for her brother’s triplets. On the other hand, in the final season, Cox was pregnant with her daughter, Coco Arquette. This was not written into the show for an obvious reason: the series had already established that Chandler and Monica couldn’t have kids. So, they hid Cox’s pregnancy to the best of their abilities with costumes and props.
14. Joey’s Magna Doodle art became a job for the crew.
Loy Chen, YouTube
Over the years, a few crew members were responsible for drawing on the Magna Doodle on Joey’s door. But in the later seasons, it was primarily a job for Paul Swain, who was the best boy on the electric crew.
The Magna Doodle became one of the show’s stars. It sat right in the middle of Joey’s door, so whenever a character walked through that door, the Magna Doodle was prominently displayed. Fans became obsessed with the drawings. Swain said, “They were looking for hidden meanings being given through the Magna Doodle.” You can read descriptions of every Magna Doodle drawing that appeared on the show on this Friends fansite.
15. For the opening credits in “The One After Vegas,” everyone was given the last name “Arquette.”
This episode was the sixth season premiere. It was also the first episode after Courteney Cox married David Arquette. In the credits, her name was switched to “Courteney Cox Arquette” and the other cast members followed suit with new names like “Jennifer Aniston Arquette,” “Lisa Kudrow Arquette,” and so on. You can see the credits above. The episode is dedicated: “For Courteney and David, who did get married.”
16. Their characters may have, but the actors didn’t always play well with animals.
It was widely publicized that Kudrow was afraid of the duck who made an appearance in season three. Before that, Ross had a pet monkey, Marcel, who was actually played by two monkeys: Monkey and Katie. Marcel was written out of the show in season two because it became too time-consuming to shoot scenes with a monkey. According to Katie’s trainer, Nerissa Politzer, Monkey was once supposed to pick up a bra, but ended up throwing it at Aniston instead. There’s also a fun blooper [at 6:20] in which Rachel is trying to explain a TV show to Marcel, but it doesn’t go so well.
17. Cox and Matthew Perry confronted Judd Nelson on a nearby soundstage about an on-set bet.
While promoting the show on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Cox told the story of an elaborate bet between her and Perry that later involved the major '80s star.
“One day I was on the set, and I was sitting around, reciting this line, like, doing this imitation of Anthony Michael Hall,” she told Leno. “He has this line in a movie. The line is, ‘Chicks cannot hold their smoke, that’s what it is.’ And Matthew Perry walks over to me and very adamantly says, ‘Oh, Weird Science.’ And I said, ‘No, Matthew, that’s The Breakfast Club.’ And he was 100 percent sure that it was Weird Science and I was 100 percent sure it was The Breakfast Club.”
More and more crew members got involved in the debate and the stakes kept rising. “We realized that Judd Nelson was over on stage 29, doing Suddenly Susan,” said Cox. “So, we ran over there and found out that yes, indeed, it was The Breakfast Club.” As for the bet, once Cox finishes telling her story to Leno, she rings a bell and Perry brings her a tissue. She tells Leno that Perry has five more months of being her “man slave.”
18. Bruce Willis appeared on the show for free after losing a bet to Perry.
Apparently Perry was quite the gambler. He got into a debate with Willis while the two were making The Whole Nine Yards. Perry believed that the film would be number one in the box office on its opening weekend, but Willis disagreed. In February 2000, the film was number one. Willis was set to appear on Friends as the dad of Ross’s girlfriend and Rachel’s love interest. As a result of the bet, he had to donate his earnings for the guest stint to charity.
19. For “The One with the Dollhouse,” the props department had to make SIX different cardboard dollhouses.
In the season three episode, Phoebe makes a dollhouse out of cardboard. But the dollhouse ends up catching on fire, which meant six identical ones had to be created from scratch. And in true television deadline fashion, they were put together in three days. The Friends props master, Marjorie Coster, described it as the “pièce de résistance” of the department.
20. In “The One Where Old Yeller Dies,” a few takes were messed up thanks to a chatty kid.
The plot of the episode is that Rachel hears the first word of Ross’s son, Ben. Ross is desperate to hear Ben talk again and spends the rest of the episode trying to get his son to talk. In one scene, Ross says, “It’s Ben and his Dada. Dada. Can you say ‘Dada’?” He’s supposed to be met with silence, but the child actor kept actually responding, “Dada.” Later in the series, Ben was played by Cole Sprouse, who would go on to star with his twin brother in the Disney Channel show The Suite Life with Zack & Cody.
In 2001, two of these bloopers were released on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. You can see them here [at 9:30].
21. Matthew Perry struggled with addiction during production.
In 1997, Perry went to rehab for an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol. He went again in 2001. He later told People, “I was never high at work. I was painfully hung over. Then eventually things got so bad I couldn’t hide it and everybody knew.”
22. The cast had a huddle before every episode.
Every week before filming commenced, the cast would get together for a moment to prepare for the show. This was the moment that David Schwimmer was dreading before the finale because he knew it would make him emotional. “I started to lose it in this ritual that we had before the show," he said, "which is just a group hug, kind of get in a little circle, right before we come out. And that was the moment I was dreading for a long time because I knew that moment of just looking at everyone in their eyes, and saying ‘Have a good show,’ and knowing that was the last time we were going to be able to be in our little circle.”
23. Jennifer Aniston almost didn’t return for the last season.
By the time the show ended, Aniston was arguably the most famous cast member thanks to films like The Good Girl and Bruce Almighty. Her then-husband, Brad Pitt, didn’t hurt her celebrity status either. With that fame came the rumors that she was almost responsible for the show ending prematurely. In a 2004 interview with Matt Lauer, Aniston admitted that she had hesitations. “I had a couple issues that I was dealing with,” she said. “I wanted it to end when people still loved us and we were on a high. And then I was also feeling like, ‘How much more of Rachel do I have in me?’” She eventually agreed to the final season.
24. There are Central Perk cafés based on the famous coffeehouse from the show.
While there isn’t an actual Central Perk in New York City, the fictional café has inspired some real ones. In 2010, Friends fan Du Xin opened a Central Perk replica in downtown Beijing, which became extremely popular. Its success meant that Du Xin could later afford to reproduce Joey’s apartment next door. In 2012, another Central Perk popped up in Liverpool.
25. A (real) reunion isn’t happening.
Back in April, Cox went on the Late Show with David Letterman where he asked her about the possibility of a reunion. Cox responded, “It’s not going to happen.” She went on to explain that it’s difficult enough for the six of them to get together for a cast dinner, let alone a full-fledged reunion.
Kauffman and Crane have similar views about a reunion. In a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Crane said, “People say they want it, and the more that we say it’s a bad idea, people [disagree]. But I think if we actually gave it to people, there would be such backlash.”
This Jimmy Kimmel segment from August may be as close as we're going to get:
All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated. This post originally appeared on the 10th anniversary of the finale.