Friends is an American sitcom that ran for ten seasons on NBC as part of the Must-See TV Thursday lineup, from September 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004. It was created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, and produced by David Crane, Marta Kauffman and Kevin Bright.
This Emmy award-winning show – Best Comedy Series for season eight (Television Academy, 2002) – tells the story of six friends in their twenties living in New York City. Each episode focuses on the everyday struggles of young adults, such as their love lives, their jobs, and their relationship with their parents.
Kevin Bright, who directed several episodes and worked on the post-production of the entire series, claims that the production team did not want to make another sitcom about a family seated in a living room, which was the common formula until then. They decided to write a series about their own experiences living in New York City, when young adults go out into the world after college and their friends become their extended family (Bright, 2016). In this case, the extended family is composed of Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), a great cook and chef who is obsessed with cleanness and tidiness; Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), a recently divorced, geeky paleontologist in love with Rachel since they were teens; Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), a spoiled rich girl who is trying for the first time to live on her own; Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Ross’s old college roommate with a sarcastic sense of humor and who has a job with numbers that nobody understands; Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), a sexy but dumb actor who is often unemployed; and Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), a new-age, street-smart masseuse/musician whose most famous song is called "Smelly Cat" (Crane & Kauffman, Friends, 1994).
Each character has their own set of skills and unique personality traits, which were developed across time. Author Judy Kutulas notes, “as series added more dimensions to characters, those characters became increasingly relatable to viewers” (Kutulas, 2018). Part of the characters’ personalities was shaped by the relationship they had with their parents. “Initially, the series needed to demonstrate that the characters’ nuclear families would not or could not adequately prepare their offspring for the modern world, followed by its ongoing celebration of the Friends’ superior ability to perform those same tasks” (Kutulas, 2018). That principle was used in several episodes for comedic effect. In the pilot episode, for example, Rachel attempts to explain to her father how she feels about life by making the following analogy:
Rachel: Daddy! Daddy, listen to me! It's like all my life everyone's told me, "You're a shoe! You're a shoe! You're a shoe!" Well, what if I don't want to be a shoe? What if I wanna be a purse or a hat? No I don't want you to buy me a hat, I'm saying I am a hat. It's a metaphor Daddy!
Ross: You can see where he'd have trouble. (Crane & Kauffman, The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate, 1994).
The pilot episode was directed by James Burrows and it was responsible for shaping the entire series. Burrows recounts in his interview for the Television Academy Foundation that he read the script and loved it from the get-go: It was a show composed of vignettes – three stories going on in each episode that interwove very well (Burrows, 2003). The pilot revolves around Monica going on a date with “Paul, the wine guy”, Ross moving into a new apartment after having divorced his lesbian wife, and Rachel having to deal with the aftermath of having left her groom Barry at the altar. One of the iconic scenes from Friends is certainly of Rachel barging into the café Central Perk, where the friends were hanging out, in a wedding dress and all wet, looking for her old friend from high school Monica, who had not been invited to the wedding.
In the very same episode, we are also presented with the longest arc of the series, the romance between Rachel and Ross. This will-they-won’t-they love story was carried throughout the ten seasons, going from the friend zone, to being in a relationship, to having a falling-out when Ross slept with another woman because they “were on a break” (Crane & Kauffman, The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break, 1997), to getting drunk-married in Vegas and then divorced, to having a baby out of wedlock, and to finally, in the series finale, getting back together. David Crane and Marta Kauffman explain that carrying out that story arc for so long was a strenuous process, but they knew that Ross and Rachel had to be together at the end (Crane & Kauffman, 2010).
James Burrows believes that working with the ensemble cast was a gift from God: they were all young, funny, had never been seen before, and had a lot of chemistry among them (Burrows, 2003). The series became an immediate hit and led all the six actors to stardom. Crane and Kauffman say that the sudden fame did not affect the work per se, but it did affect the schedule, as the actors started getting other work as a result of the star status (Crane & Kauffman, 2010).
Friends’ popularity is off the charts: it was always among the top ten shows watched on television throughout the entire course of the series; catchy phrases from the sitcom are still quoted by legions of fans (“How you doin’?”; “Pivot, pivot”; “We were on a break!” “Unagi”); Jennifer Aniston’s haircut was copied by women around the globe and was named “The Rachel”; and more recently, when Netflix announced that it would exclude Friends from its platform, fans loudly complained and demanded that they keep the show in their content list (Flint, 2018).
The theme song “I’ll Be There For You” was co-written by David Crane, Marta Kauffman, and her husband Michael Skloff for the opening of Friends. They were looking for a catchy tune, with a Beatles’ vibe. The lyricist Allee Willis wrote the words to the song. Later on, they invited the duo The Rembrandts to record the single and it became a radio success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart for several weeks (I'll Be There for You (The Rembrandts song), 2019). Author Lynn C. Spangler justifies the success of the song observing that it touched “a nerve in its expression of youthful struggle and the importance of friendship” (Spangler, 2003).
Another interesting fact about the music in Friends is that the producers wanted to use master recordings of popular songs, which made the show even more relatable to its audience. In the episode “The One with the List”, Ross dedicates the song “With or Without You” by the rock band U2 to Rachel on the radio and it was solidified as their love song (Crane & Kauffman, The One With the List, 1995).
Marta Kauffman believes she has a little bit of Monica in her own personality, while David Crane is more like Chandler and Ross (Crane & Kauffman, 2010). Kevin Bright believes that the characters also grew and evolved from the actors, who brought much of themselves into the series. The show was rooted in real experiences and Bright believes that the success of the sitcom is highly associated with the fact that they told universal stories that appealed to the general public (Bright, 2016). Author Lee Siegel says “Friends ennobled the setback, lent dignity to ordinary experience, proclaimed mere survival a triumph greater than wealth, or success, or fame” (Siegel, 2007).
Friends tackled several controversial topics for its time, such as having a lesbian couple raising a child, Phoebe being a surrogate mother for her brother’s triplets, and Chandler’s father being a transgender woman, among others. Marta Kauffman is particularly proud of having endorsed safe sex throughout the series, making sure there were always condoms around when the characters were to engage in intercourse (Crane & Kauffman, 2010). Famously, in “The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies”, Rachel and Monica battle for the last condom in the apartment, making it very clear that the couple that did not have protection, would not have sex (Crane & Kauffman, The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies, 1996).
Ultimately, Friends’ continued success can be attributed to its relatability factor: “The Friends became the support group to help one another traverse the shoals of adulthood, particularly sex and love, interpersonal relationships, and careers” (Kutulas, 2018), topics to which we can all relate. Kevin Bright believes that the legacy of the show is that wherever you are, even if you’re in a strange place where you are feeling uncomfortable and down, you can always turn to Friends, because they will be there for you (Bright, 2016).
-Elisa Herrmann, MFA, Department of Mass Communication, Sam Houston State University, May 2019
Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television.
David Crane and Marta Kauffman
"I'll Be There for You" by The Rembrandts
NUMBER OF SEASONS
NUMBER OF EPISODES
David Crane, Marta Kauffman, Kevin S. Bright
Michael Borkow (season 4)
Michael Curtis (season 5)
Adam Chase (seasons 5–6)
Greg Malins (seasons 5–7)
Wil Calhoun (season 7)
Scott Silveri (seasons 8–10)
Shana Goldberg-Meehan (seasons 8–10)
Andrew Reich (seasons 8–10)
Ted Cohen (seasons 8–10)
Warner Bros. Studios
20–22 minutes (per episode)
22–65 minutes (extended DVD episodes)
Warner Bros. Television
Warner Bros. Television (worldwide)
Original channel NBC
September 22, 1994 – May 6, 2004
Bright, K. (2016, March 29). Kevin Bright - Producer. Television Academy Foundation: The Interviews. (J. Matz, Interviewer)
Burrows, J. (2003, December 2003). James Burrows - Director. Television Academy Foundation: The Interviews. (G. Rutkowski, Interviewer)
Crane, D., & Kauffman, M. (2010, October 10). David Crane & Marta Kauffman - Producer, Show Creator. Televison Academy Foundation: The Interviews. (B. Cochran, Interviewer)
Crane, D., Kauffman, M. (Writers), & Bright, K. (Director). (1994). Friends [Motion Picture].
Crane, D., Kauffman, M. (Writers), & Lembeck, M. (Director). (1996). The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies [Motion Picture].
Crane, D., Kauffman, M. (Writers), & Burrows, J. (Director). (1994). The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate [Motion Picture].
Crane, D., Kauffman, M. (Writers), & Burrows, J. (Director). (1997). The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break [Motion Picture].
Crane, D., Kauffman, M. (Writers), & Place, M. K. (Director). (1995). The One With the List [Motion Picture].
Flint, J. (2018, December 04). Netflix Renews ‘Friends’ Rerun Deal. The Wall Street Journal.
I'll Be There for You (The Rembrandts song). (2019, January 07). Retrieved January 25, 2019, from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I%27ll_Be_There_for_You_(The_Rembrandts_song)#Chart_performance
Kutulas, J. (2018). Anatomy of a Hit: Friends and Its Sitcom Legacies. The Journal of Popular Culture, 1172-1189.
Siegel, L. (2007). Not Remotely Controled: Notes on Television. New York: Basic Books.
Spangler, L. C. (2003). Television Women From Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism. Westport: Praeger Publishers.
Television Academy. (2002). 54th Emmy Awards Nominees and Winners. Retrieved 01 25, 2019, from Television Academy: https://www.emmys.com/awards/nominees-winners/2002/outstanding-comedy-se...