28 Fascinating Facts About Friends

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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).

Cast members of NBC's comedy series 'Friends.' Pictured (l to r): Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Courteney Cox as Monica Geller and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay. Episode: 'The One Where They
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

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.

The Cast Of 'Friends' 1999-2000 Season. From L-R: David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow And Matt Leblanc.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.


NBC

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.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

11. Phoebe Buffay’s twin sister, Ursula, was also a character on Mad About You.

12. 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.

13. Joey’s Magna Doodle art became a job for the crew.

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.”

14. Matt LeBlanc took the Magna Doodle.

Unsurprisingly, LeBlanc had a soft spot for the Magna Doodle, too—and actually took it with him when the series ended. (He took the foosball table, too.) It even found a second life on his short-lived Friends spinoff, Joey.

15. 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 a fun blooper (at about the 6:20 mark above) in which Rachel is trying to explain a TV show to Marcel, but it doesn’t go so well.

16. 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 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.”

17. 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.” (The couple divorced in 2013.)

18. 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.”

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.


Getty Images

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. 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, 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.

23. There are Central Perk cafes based on the famous coffeehouse from the show.

While there isn’t an actual Central Perk in New York City, the fictional cafe 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.

24. 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.

25. It featured a lot of future stars.

Actors Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Kristin Davis as Erin star in NBC's comedy series 'Friends' episode 'The One With Ross's Library Book.'
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

In addition to making household names of its main cast members, Friends gave an early start to several soon-to-be stars as well. Among the now-familiar faces you might see if you rewatch the series, including Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, Melora Hardin and Craig Robinson from The Office, and Riverdale's Cole Sprouse.

26. Fans have concocted a lot of bizarre theories about the show.

Did the entirety of Friends take place in Rachel's dream? Or in Phoebe's hallucinatory mind? Over the years, fans of the show have come up with a host of theories to explain particular aspects of the show—and some of them are pretty bizarre.

27. It's one of the most watched shows on Netflix.

Decades after its premiere, Friends still maintains a massive fan base. In the UK, it's the most streamed series on Netflix, and it holds the number 2 spot in America (only The Office gets more viewers). In late 2018, when Netflix announced that the series would be leaving the service on January 1, 2019, fans revolted; a Change.org petition to bring the show back was launched and #Justice4Friends became a trending password. Amazingly, it worked!

28. A (real) reunion isn’t happening.

In 2015, 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 2014 may be as close as we're going to get:

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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