Friends (NBC 1994-2004, Jennifer Aniston, Matt Le Blanc)

Friends is example of niche programming that became a phenomenon. Designed to appeal to young adults, the show did just that and then some. As its audience grew to encompass all age groups, the show became the lead-off hitter for NBC’s “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup, as well as one of the most popular sitcoms of the 90’s.

The show’s set-up was clear from the title: six friends, all in their late 20’s and living in New York, and all in various stages of romance malaise. Professionally-trained chef Monica had to settle for a job as a cook in a 50’s-styled diner. Her roommate was Rachel was a ‘rich kid’ who left a husband at the altar and was trying to figure out what to do with her life.
In the apartment across the hall was Chandler, a numbercruncher who was brimming with sarcasm, and his roommate Joey, a macho aspiring actor who idolized Al Pacino. Ross was Monica’s paleontologist brother, who eventually became Rachel’s boyfriend. Finally, there was Phoebe, a daft but good-hearted friend of Monica and Rachel’s, who was a masseuse and an occasional folk songstress.

The episodes followed the intertwined adventures of these six characters as they tried to build careers, find love, and work their way towards becoming ‘adults.’ In between these pursuits, they all managed to find a lot of time to hang out at their favorite haunt, the Central Perk Café.

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The ongoing success of Friends can be partially attributed to smart writing. The episodic storylines were deisgned to include several guest characters each week, a la Seinfeld. Once the show took off, these bit roles became a magnet for high-profile stars—everyone from Elliott Gould and Tom Selleck to Julia Roberts and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The random-character bits were balanced with ongoing subplots like the relationship between Ross and his ex-wife, who left him after deciding she was gay. Adding complexity to this state of affairs was the fact that she had Ross’ child after they divorced.

Also like Seinfeld, Friends made room for plenty of episodes about ‘nothing,’ give the show an opportunity to allow the character interplay to take center stage. Notable examples include “The One Where No One’s Ready,” which featured most of the cast on set as they unsuccessfully prepared to go out, and “The One Where Ross Can’t Flirt,” which depicted the cast parked in front of the television to watch an episode of Law and Order.

But no amount of clever writing would work if the acting wasn’t solid enough to sell the quirky storylines. Luckily, Friends was blessed with an ensemble cast oozing charisma and chemistry. The show’s six leads were carefully selected from a pool of a hundred actors by the creators, and the selected cast has stood the test time. They not only clicked as a unit, but have also gone on to solo success: each of the six main cast members has enjoy an acting career in film, in addition to the ongoing television work. The cast has also won a Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble Performance in a television show.

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Friends became a trendsetter in more ways than one. It was an immediate success and managed to hit the Nielsen Ratings Top-10 in its very first season. As a result, a lot of shows that came out the next season tried to emulate the Friends format: Can’t Hurry Love, The Crew, First Time Out, Misery Loves Company, Partners and The Single Guy. The show also influenced trends among its core audience of twenty-somethings. For instance, coffee bars all over the country experienced a surge in popularity in the wake of cast’s habit of hanging out at a coffee shop.

There was occasional interlocking between Friends and the fellow sitcom Mad About You with Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula (played again by Lisa Kudrow) appearing as a semi-regular in Mad About You as a waitress. Final episode aired 6 May 2004. Matt Le Blanc went straight into the spin off Joey.

production details
USA | NBC – Bright-Kauffman- Marta Crane Prod. – Warner | 236×22 minutes | 1994 – 6 May 2004

Creators: Marta Kauffman, David Crane
Executive Producers: Kevin S. Bright, Kauffman, David Crane

COURTENEY COX as Monica Geller
LISA KUDROW as Phoebe Buffay
MATTHEW PERRY as Chandler Bing
MATT LE BLANC as Joey Tribbiani

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.