Friends premiered on Thursday, September 22, 1994, at 8:30, to generally good reviews and solid but not initially spectacular ratings.
DAVID CRANE: We had absolutely no idea what this show was going to be. For us, it was just another pilot. We’d just had a series canceled. We were thinking we’d never work again, so we were scrambling. You pitch a bunch of stuff. We were doing this thing at Fox and at NBC. Friends was feeling good, but it was just another pilot. Or it was just another pilot until Jimmy Burrows wants to direct it. Excuse me, James Burrows. We thought, That’s crazy.
And he really embraced what we wanted to do. In the pilot, the structure is really loose. We started out doing a much more traditional story. It still had to do with Rachel leaving a guy at the altar, but we had an original version where her parents came, and the act break [before going to a commercial] was her parents’ showing up. It wasn’t good. We approached it again and made it much looser. The structure is loose and unconventional. There’s no event at the act break. Ross [whose wife, a lesbian, has left him] and Rachel are each looking out at the rain. In a pilot, that seems crazy. You couldn’t do it today, and I’m surprised we did that then.
JIM BURROWS (director): Based on the [live] audience for the Friends pilot, I knew how popular that show would be. The kids were all pretty and funny, so beautiful. I said to Les Moonves, who was head of Warner Bros., “Give me the plane. I’ll pay for dinner.” I took the cast to Vegas.
MATT LeBLANC: Who goes to Vegas on a private jet? And Jimmy gave me 500 bucks to gamble.
LISA KUDROW: On the plane he showed us the first episode of Friends. None of it had aired yet.
Jimmy took us to dinner, and he gave us each a little money to gamble with. He said, “I want you to be aware that this is the last time that you all can be out and not be swarmed, because that’s what’s going to happen.” And everyone was like, “Really?” I thought, Well, we’ll see. Maybe. Who knows? We don’t know how the show’s going to do. Why is he so certain?
JIM BURROWS: I told them they had a special show and this was their last shot at anonymity. They wanted to gamble, and I was the only one with money. They wrote me checks. Schwimmer gave me a check for $200, and Jen did. I should have saved them.
MATT LeBLANC: We went to Caesars for dinner. We sat at the big round table in the middle of the room. Jimmy said, “Look around.” Nobody knew us. People kind of knew Courteney from that “Dancing in the Dark” video.
He said, “Your life is going to change. The six of you will never be able to do this again.” It was almost like Don Corleone talking. He’s not going to be wrong. He’s Jimmy Burrows.
MARTA KAUFFMAN: The first day we went to a run-through, and the six of them were together for the first time, onstage in the coffee shop, I remember the atmosphere being electric. A chill ran down my spine. I knew we had something special.
DAVID SCHWIMMER: I felt that it was something special immediately in the first rehearsals. Even the first read-through, I thought, Oh. You could feel it. The energy. The miracle is the casting. Having been on the other side of it now in terms of directing and producing, to find one magical actor who is just right for the role is difficult enough, but to find six and then to have them actually have chemistry with each other is just kind of a miracle. I think we were just lucky. I looked at the five of them, I watched their work, and I thought, Everyone is just so talented and perfect for their character. And they grew into their characters and enriched them and deepened them.
MARTA KAUFFMAN: You realize very quickly that Ross has a terrible crush on Rachel, and there’s a scene at the end where he says, “Do you maybe want to go out maybe on a date sometime?” And Rachel says, “Maybe.” There was one Oreo cookie left. I will never forget, Jimmy said to David, “Try the cookie in your mouth when you say that line.”
DAVID CRANE: Rachel says, “Maybe,” and David says, “Maybe I will,” and pops the cookie in his mouth.
MARTA KAUFFMAN: It was such a victory for him. It made the moment.
LISA KUDROW: Courteney Cox was the best known of all of us, and she had done a guest star on Seinfeld. She said, “Listen, I just did a Seinfeld, and they all help each other. They say, ‘Try this,’ and ‘This would be funny.’ ” And she said, “You guys, feel free to tell me. If I could do anything funnier, I want to do it.”
There’s a code with actors. Actors don’t give each other notes under any circumstances. So she was giving us permission to give her notes, and we all agreed that that would be great. Why not? And she also said, “Listen, you know, we all need to make this thing great.” She just set the stage with: “I know I’m the one who’s been on TV, but this is all of us.” She was the one who set that tone and made it a real group that way. And I thought that was a real turning point.
LISA KUDROW: When we started shooting that first season, Jimmy (director) 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.
MATT LeBLANC: It wasn’t like we were in college together. We were on a giant fucking television show together. Everybody worked really hard. Lisa Kudrow said it best. She said that she worked harder on these relationships than she did on her marriage.
We really spent a lot of time if someone’s feelings got hurt. “Oh, let’s drop everything and fix that. And I’m sorry.” Rule No. 1: Get along. Everyone knew the importance of getting along the whole way through.
HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY, F.R.I.E.N.D.S!!
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Why should she have the man that she loves when she took mine from me!?…
Carrie Mathison // Peter Quinn