15 Stories from the Set of Friends, In Their Own Words

With Friends finally up in its entirety on Netflix and coming off the 20th anniversary of its first episode, we have been inundated with lots of new retrospectives and interviews with cast, crew, and former NBC suits. As such, this seems like the perfect time to look back at some stories and bits of trivia from the show, but instead of doing it the normal way I’m going to mostly let them tell the story, pulling quotes from Vulture’s interview with executive producer Scott Silveri and Warren Littlefield’s book Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. Just so it’s clear, every single quote from Silveri comes from Vulture, everything else from Littlefield’s book.

15. It Was Originally Sold To Fox


David Crane (Co-Creator): We pitched Friends to Fox and sold it to Fox, and then we pitched it to NBC. Then there was some finagling, and somehow we were doing it at NBC.

Warren Littlefield (NBC President): Les Moonves, who was president of Warner Bros. TV at the time, said you have to make a pilot commitment, not a script. What this meant financially was that if I got the script and wanted to get out of the commitment, it would cost me $250,000.

As part of the compromise, David Crane and Marta Kauffman developed a different show for Fox, a high school drama called Reality Check, which ultimately never made it to air.

14. Craig Bierko Could Have Been Chandler


Steven Weber and Craig Bierko in Larry David’s 1998 film Sour Grapes, which, oddly enough, features a Matthew Perry-like character who was an actor in an obvious Friends clone
Marta Kauffman (Co-Creator): One of the first actors on our list was Matthew Perry to play Chandler, but he was doing a show called LAX 2194 about baggage handlers in the future, so he wasn’t available. We brought other people in […] The person who came closest was Craig Bierko, and we found out later that Matthew had coached him.

Lori Openden (NBC’s Head of Casting): The producers wanted to go with Craig Bierko instead of Matthew Perry for Chandler. Bierko read the script and passed.

Warren: Thank God!

 

Karey Burke (NBC’s Executive VP of Prime-Time Programming): We kind of talked Craig Bierko out of being in Friends. Ultimately, he made his own decision, sort of. He took another pilot where he could be the lead and the only star.

Kauffman: We took Matthew in second position.

13. Nancy McKeon Could Have Been Monica

 

McKeonCourtney Cox was originally offered the part of Rachel, but turned it down and asked them to instead consider her for the role of Monica. She had some serious competition.

Openden: Nancy McKeon from Facts of Life also read for Courtney’s part. She gave a terrific performance. Warren let Mart and David make the call. They went off for a walk and came back and said Courtney.

But why?

Kauffman: Because we were doing an ensemble there was something very appealing about not using someone as known as Nancy McKeon.

Yet neither McKeon nor Cox actually read the part the way the writers had envisioned it:

Crane: When we originally wrote the role, we had Janeane Garofalo’s voice in our head, darker, edgier, and snarkier. Courtney brought a whole bunch of other colors to it.

12. Jami Gertz Could Have Been Rachel

 

Jami Gertz Lost Boys
She’s the Lost Boys girlfriend you had a crush on.
Crane: An exec at NBC called to say she’d offered the part of Rachel to Jami Gertz. We didn’t have a Rachel, and Jami Gertz is a really talented actress, but not Rachel. So we held our breath for 24 hours until she passed.

11. Jennifer Aniston Wasn’t Technically

Availablejennifer_aniston_jennifer_aniston_muddling_through_2_G5TUUk4.sizedNBC already knew Aniston from her time playing the sister on the Ferris Bueller TV show, and they desperately wanted her back even though she was already spoken for.

Kauffman: Jennifer came in, and she was in a show that was on the air-Muddling Through.

Crane: We had a meeting with the guy who created Muddling Through and asked him if he’d let her go.

Openden: We auditioned other actors for Jennifer’s part, but nobody else was good enough. It was a pretty big risk. Her show was a comedy for CBS. They’d shot eight episodes and had them on the shelf for six months. They still had the rights to air it.

Jamie Tarses (NBC’s VP of Comedy Development): Then we had Jennifer Aniston crying to Les Moonves to let her out of the CBS show she was on.

Preston Beckman (NBC’s Scheduler): I put Danielle Steele movies on opposite the Jennifer Aniston show on CBS. I killed it.

After they shot the pilot, CBS still hadn’t canceled Muddling Through. That would normally mean they’d have to re-cast the role, but Warren Littlefield decided to move forward with Aniston as Rachel even though they’d have to re-shoot all of her scenes across multiple episodes with a new actress if CBS called her back.

10. Matt LeBlanc’s Skinned Nose Helped Him Get the Role of Joey

Yes, he had previously done two Red Shoes Diaries episodes
Joey was not originally written as a particularly stupid character. That changed after they cast Matt LeBlanc because he plays dumb well, but also that’s the frame of mind you’re put into when you first meet him after he’s…well, I’ll let him tell it:

LeBlanc: I was practicing lines with an actor friend of mine, and he said, “This show is about a group of friends, so we should go out tonight and get drunk, as though we were friends. We should just keep that in mind.” So we went out, and I fell down and skinned my nose really badly. I went to the audition, with this huge scab on my face, and Marta said, “What happened to your face?” I said, “Aw, it’s a long story.” She thought it was funny and laughed, and that kind of set the tone for the room.”

9. David Schwimmer Didn’t Have to Audition, But He Still Didn’t Want to Do It


David Schwimmer in Monty with Henry Wrinkler. They only made 6 episodes.
Marta Kauffman and David Crane had previously auditioned David Schwimmer for a pilot, Couples, which ultimately didn’t make it to air. They remembered Schwimmer so clearly that they offered him the part of Ross in Friends without an audition. The problem was Schwimmer no longer wanted anything to do with TV, having sworn it off after nobody he worked with on the short-lived Henry Wrinkler sitcom Monty listened to any of his ideas. He wanted a collaborative, creative experience; they just wanted him to shut up and say his damn lines. So, he ran back to his theater company in Chicago, and told his agent not to send him anything. She ignored that, and demanded he read the Friends script. He liked it, but he still wasn’t going to do it until two random phone calls came his way:

Scwhimmer: I got a phone call from Robby Benson in Chicago, who is friends with Marta and David. I was a huge fan of Robby Benson, and I had never met him. Out of the blue, I get this phone call from him. He said, “Look, I really think you should consider this. At least go and meet with Marta and David and talk about it.” And then Jim Burrows, who had directed every episode of Cheers and nearly episode of Taxi, called. Jim is my idol. I just think the world of him. To have these two people call, and then to understand, which I didn’t realize at first, that they had written Ross with my voice in mind was hugely flattering. I thought, “I’d be an idiot not to go.”

8. We Have Pontius Pilot to Thank for Ross’ Early, Ultra-Short Hair

8981923.tScwhimmer: I was in Chicago doing a play with my company. We were doing The Master and Margarita-this book we had adapted-and we had just opened Steppenwolf’s new studio space with this play. I was playing Pontious Pilate with a very short Roman haircut, which is why Ross eventually had this haircut.

7. Lisa Kudrow Was Terrified They Were Going to Fire Her


James Burrows had fired Lisa Kudrow from Frasier, where she was the original actress cast to play Roz
Kudrow: I was terrified that first week. It was James Burrows again. He was collaborate and inclusive of the cast. So, he would say, “Why are they friends with her?” Meaning me. “We have to figure that out. She doesn’t fit.” At one point he thought it would be funny if I deliver my monologue under the table. They’re all sitting around the table. Rachel is about to cut up her credit cards. Instead of being with them, I’m under the table, because I’m “quirky.” I thought, “This is the run-through where Marta and David are going to say, ‘This character doesn’t work. We have to rethink it. She’s just not part of the group.’ Thank God, they simply said, “Um, Lisa, not that it’s a bad choice, but I don’t think that’s a good spot for you under the table.” I didn’t know how to answer that. I would never have put myself under the table. Jimmy said, “No, that was me. We were just trying something.”

6. They Broke the Actor’s Code and Regularly Gave Notes to Each other

Funny-friends-6573094-600-383Kudrow: Actors don’t give each other notes under any circumstances. But during the first week Courtney Cox told us, “Listen, I just did Seinfeld, and they all help each other. They say, ‘Try this’ and ‘This would be funny.’ So, guys, feel free to tell me if I could do anything funnier because I want to do it.” She was giving us permission to give her notes, and we all agreed that would be great. She was the one who set that tone and made it a real group that way.

5. They Almost Called It Six of One


Wild Oats, with Paul Rudd, was the real buzzy show of the moment, centering around a group of lovable 20-somethings in Chicago
Karey Burke: Six of One was the name of the show during the pilot. Then Kauffman and Crane came back with Friends, which we thought was such a snore. Some people thought the show was too Gen X, way too narrow. There was more buzz about Fox’s version of the same concept, a show called Wild Oats with Paul Rudd.

4. NBC Actually Had a Good Note/Suggestion

It was Warren Littlefield’s idea to have Monica and Rachel live across the hall from Chandler and Joey.

Women to party
This joke may never have been possible if not for Warren Littlefield
Crane: Warren also suggested we actually call it Across the Hall, which we did not do. Once we got into making the show, I don’t think we’d realized how important having them across the hall would be. We just hadn’t done that much four-camera television.

NBC also wanted them to add an older character, specifically a male owner of the coffeehouse:

Crane: We tried a pass at this character, but it was like you’re writing, you’re going, “Hate myself, hate myself, hate myself.” We ended up bringing in the parents as recurring characters instead.

3. They Became Real Life Friends Because They All Thought That Would Help the Show in the Long Run


It was so much easier to make it through these chummy photoshoots if they didn’t have to fake it
Kudrow: When we started shooting that first season, Jimmy said, “Use my dressing room to hang out.” Because it was bigger. We would all hang out playing poker and bonding because I think we all understood that the point of the show was that we were family and best friends. We needed to hang out, get to know each other, and bond as quickly as possible, because that’s the only way that the show was going to work.

2. David Schwimmer Or His Mom Or Both Convinced The Cast To Negotiate

Togetherbarracuda_aluminum_license_plateSchwimmer: I knew because we were all friends-that when we started, each of us on the show had a different contract. So I knew I wasn’t the highest-paid actor on the show, but I wasn’t the lowest. After the first season, I thought, “I’m being advised to go in for more money. But for me, it goes against everything I truly believe in, in terms of an ensemble.” So I said to the group, “Here’s the deal. I’m being advised to ask for more money, but I think instead of that we should all go in together. There’s this expectation that I’m going in to ask for a pay raise. I think we use this opportunity to talk openly about the six of us being paid the same.”

John Agoglia (NBC’s Head of Business Affairs): At one point David Schwimmer’s mother convinced the cast to negotiate as a group. She’s a prominent divorce attorney. Her license plate is “Ex Barracuda.”

1. Tom Selleck Was Only Supposed To Be in One Or Two Episodes

2971-tom-selleckScott Silveri (Friends Executive Producer/Writer): With Courteney and Tom Selleck [in season two], if I’m not mistaken, there was no sense [at first] that was going to become a relationship with a capital ‘R,’ They went into that, and it was going to be one episode, two tops. And then they had such good chemistry, the producers and the writers at the time decided to explore it a little more.

 

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