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‘Friends’ Creators Rule Out Reboot, Revisit Sexist Pushback On Pilot

Variety — Elizabeth Wagmeister

If you’re holding your breath for a “Friends” reboot, 25 years is a good time to stop holding onto hope.

The creators of the beloved NBC sitcom firmly put the kibosh on any possibility of a revival series or reunion special, during a panel celebrating the show’s milestone anniversary.

“We will not be doing a reunion show. We will not be doing a reboot,” co-creator Marta Kauffman said Friday evening on an anniversary panel for “Friends” at the Tribeca TV Festival in Manhattan. Kauffman was joined by co-creator David Crane and executive producer Kevin Bright for the conversation.

Explaining why there will be no “Friends” reboot, Kauffman said, “There are two reasons for that. One of the reasons we won’t do a reunion is because this is a show about a time in your life when your friends are your family. And when you have a family, that changes. But the other reason is it’s not going to beat what we did.”

Crane weighed in, adding, “We did the show we wanted to do. We got it right, and we put a bow on it. If you visited those characters now, it just would not be the same DNA and chances are, it wouldn’t be as good.”

If you do want to see Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica, Chandler and Phoebe today, you still can — just not in the form of a reboot. In honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, there will be a theatrical release nation-wide of producer-curated episodes. Friday evening at the Tribeca event, the three producers selected two episodes that they consider to be some of the best from all 10 seasons, “The One with the Embryos” and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out,” which, for the very first time, were screened in 4K digital restoration.

Aside from squashing any rumors of a possible reboot, the “Friends” executive producers shared more behind-the-scenes details about the show…

The network slut-shamed Monica in the pilot

In the “Friends” pilot, Monica (Cox) sleeps with Paul The Wine Guy on the first date. She has a huge crush on Paul, who tells her that since his wife left him, he hasn’t been able to perform sexually, so Monica believed him and has sex on the first date. Shortly after, she finds out that her co-worker was told the same thing and also slept with him, so Monica never speaks to Paul again.

According to the show’s creators, the network pushed back at this storyline — not because the man lied to Monica to coerce her into sex — but because an NBC executive was concerned that viewers might take issue with Monica’s willingness to sleep with a man on the first date. The network tried to get rid of the story, but according to the producers, they came up with a rationale to approve the storyline.

“The person who was the head of NBC at the time felt that Monica got what she deserved for sleeping with a guy on the first date,” Kauffman scoffed, adding that this executive (whom she never named) painted the character Monica as a “slut” or “whore.”

“That’s how it got in,” Crane said, recalling their disagreement with the executive. “Finally, he gets on board with this rationale. He told us that right after the network run-through. I saw Marta, her eyes glazed over.”

“Fire was coming out of my nose,” Kauffman added.

Bright said that the network sent out a survey to viewers, as a sort of focus group, to see how audiences felt about Monica. “They handed out an actual survey to see if people felt that she was a slut…and nobody cared,” Bright recalled. “They liked her. There was no judgement that came from the survey.”

There were many standards-and-practices disagreements

Kauffman vividly recalled that the network took issue with showing condoms on-screen.

“There was an argument where Monica and Rachel (Aniston) fought over who could use the last condom,” she said, recalling an episode. “We could show the box, you could shake the box so you could hear the condoms, but you couldn’t show the foil packet, and you couldn’t say condom. It had to be in the box. I remember that very well.”

Crane chimed in that the network also took issue with the word “penis” — well, sometimes.

“When we first started, you could stay ‘penis.’ But then, three years in, you couldn’t say ‘penis.’ And then, ‘penis’ came back in season seven,” Crane quipped to which Kauffman added, “You couldn’t say ‘nipple,’ but you could say ‘penis.'”

Crane also revealed that the writers had a strategic way of getting what they wanted into their scripts. “We would purposely put excess in so that we could negotiate,” he shared.

The network did not like the opening sequence

The opening sequence of “Friends” is iconic with the six characters dancing in the fountain. But, according to executive producer Bright, the network did not like the sequence, which is why sometimes the opening including a montage of show clips.

Bright recalls that the head of the network told him this about the opening sequence: “It says we’re young, we’re hip and we can dance in a fountain, but you can’t dance with us.” Bright then elaborated, “This should have been the title sequence for the whole series. You should have never seen another one [with show clips].”

The creators never intended Monica and Chandler to truly be together

The original plan for Monica and Chandler (Perry) in the writers room was a one-night-stand. The iconic TV couple was never supposed to fall in love.

“As far as Monica and Chandler, we never intended when we started writing it  for them to be in a love relationship,” Kauffman said. “We thought it was going to be a stupid night…but the audience reaction was so strong and their chemistry was so good, that we ultimately had to listen to the show.”

If the original script of a one-night-stand stuck, the writers were excited to play around with their awkward dynamic, both with their relationship and among the entire group. “It was the London episode, so we thought, at the beginning of next season, we’ll have fun with the awkwardness of it,” Crane said.

“Monica and Chandler getting together was somewhat indicative of the show growing up where Chandler was no longer afraid of commitment,” Kauffman said. “It’s part of the maturation of the show.”

The creators were concerned the show would be boring when Ross and Rachel became a couple

“I remember another show — not our show — where you were very interested in the show until the couple got together, and then the show went south,” Bright said, explaining the producers were concerned that coupling up any of the Friends could have sent the show downhill.

Kaufmann added that they had to keep Rachel and Ross apart because there was no conflict if they were always together.

Ross and Rachel would still be happily together today

If there ever were to be a modern-day reboot, Ross and Rachel would still be together.

When asked by an audience member if the couple stayed together in the future, Kauffman replied positively. “I do think Ross and Rachel had a great relationship, ultimately. I believe in their future,” she said.

Some of the best episodes were created on a tight budget

Both episodes screened at Tribeca TV Fest (“The One with the Embryos” and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”) were simple episodes, largely filmed within the apartments and focused on the core six characters, rather than bringing in an influx of guest stars. Though “Friends” was always about the simplicity of the friends’ lives together, the more simple episodes were not bare-bones by design. It’s because the sitcom was on a tight budget in its early years — which is hard to imagine, given the eye-popping $1 million per-episode salaries the actors were receiving by the end of the series.

“We were about $100,000 behind in the budget,” Bright recalled from the beginning seasons of shooting, explaining they needed to work with basic sets and no guest actors. “At first, it was something that come out of a problem, but what we found was a tremendous strength in just those six characters.”

Crane added that the chemistry of the six actors is what made the show work. “I think what makes the show work is when we’re striking that balance between heart and big laughs. If the show was just big laughs, we wouldn’t be here now.”

Lisa Kudrow’s real-life pregnancy influenced her surrogacy storyline

One of the episodes screened at Tribeca, “The One with the Embryos,” centers around Phoebe (Kudrow) starting her surrogate pregnancy, carrying the child for her half-brother, Frank (Giovanni Ribisi).

The creators decided to make Kudrow’s character pregnant on the show, since the actress was pregnant in real life (“we didn’t want to do things where we had to hide her belly with a plant of have lots of coats,” Kauffman said), but having a baby on the series wouldn’t have made sense at the time, hence the surrogacy. “We weren’t ready to have a baby on the show, so this seemed like it was weird and different and could give us lots of lots and lots of stories,” Crane said.

Asked on the panel about network notes to the storyline of Phoebe carrying her half-brother’s child, Kauffman said the network had no problems with that particular plot line. “Surprisingly, they didn’t have any comment,” Kauffman snarked. “They had comments about condoms…but nothing about surrogate incest.”

There are storylines the creators regret

When asked if there are any storylines they wish didn’t make it into the show, Kauffman revealed there are a few she regrets.

“The stalker. David Arquette. We did a lot of re-writing on that to make that work,” Kauffman revealed, adding, “And I wasn’t sure the chicken pox worked either.”

Gunther has no last name

When asked if Gunther (James Michael Tyler), the manager of Central Perk, has a last name, Kauffman pondered, responding, “I don’t know that he has one. I don’t think we ever gave him a last name.”

Crane joked, “He’s like Cher.”

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