Now that we’ve heard from the iconic cast of Friends, what about the major players behind the scenes?
The Friends reunion gave us a lot of juicy details about the production of the beloved ‘90s sitcom, as well as plenty of nostalgic moments for fans of the series. But while the cast came together to reminisce about their iconic ten-year run onscreen, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Marta Kauffman, Kevin Bright, and David Crane, the creators of the series, to share their perspective on the reunion and the legacy of the show.
Read on for regrets about the (lack of) diversity on Friends, on- and off-screen romances, and more:
COVID and the reunion
Because “Everything was dictated and compromised by COVID” (enforced by “COVID cops,” in Kevin Bright’s words), the creators didn’t really get to have their “moment” on the set as the cast did. Bright admitted:
“Talking about old times and that kind of stuff couldn’t happen because of COVID. We saw the cast on both days before and after shooting and that was pretty much it. And then we saw the show. We got to experience it more as the audience than as the producers. Having these gushy moments with all nine of us together again and talking about old times couldn’t happen.”
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“We were lucky we got to have an audience. We moved it from the set to outside to be able to get like a hundred people. The show is good, that’s what we’re happy about. Ben Winston did a terrific job. But COVID ruined and put a damper on the warm and fuzzy part of this reunion, for us anyhow. For the six of them, it was a very different experience.”
Diversity on the show
Asked whether it was a “conscious choice” to have an all-white cast, Bright responded:
“For the parts of Chandler and Phoebe, we saw everybody and we picked what we thought with the two best actors. There are different priorities today and so much has changed. There was no social media when Friends was on the air. … It’s important for today’s shows to be reflective of the ways society truly is. But for our experience, the three of us, that may have been our experience when we were young and in New York. But we didn’t intend to have an all-white cast. That was not the goal, either. Obviously, the chemistry between these six actors speaks for itself.”
“No. There are many things that I could say if I only knew then what I know now. Back then, there was no conscious decision. We saw people of every race, religion, color. These were the six people we cast. So, it was certainly not conscious. And it wasn’t because it was literally based on people, because it wasn’t literal. You get an inspiration for someone, you write what you think their voice is going to be, but it wasn’t literal.”
The Grace & Frankie co-creator said there were “probably a hundred things” she would have done differently regarding making the show more reflective of a diverse world, but Bright claimed he had no regrets in that regard:
“I don’t have any regrets other than hindsight. I would have been insane not to hire those six actors. What can I say? I wish Lisa was Black? I’ve loved this cast. I loved the show and I loved the experience. I know Marta has a different feeling about it. I think it affects us all.”
Interestingly, the creators have contrasting opinions on the more progressive aspects of Friends history: Bright expressed pride in having one of the first lesbian weddings on television, while Crane shared his regret that the show didn’t explore Carol and Susan’s perspective on the event.
Jennifer & David’s chemistry
One of the biggest bombshells from the cast reunion was that Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer both had a crush on each other at the same time their characters were falling in love — something Bright and Kauffman were apparently both well aware of!
“It was a very hot topic on the set because the electricity between them in the scenes was like, ‘Oh my God, they can’t be acting that, there’s got to be something!’ Everybody was suspicious that something was going on. People made up their own rumors and at a certain point. But we all thought something might have been going on because they were just so good together. We were so invested in Ross and Rachel, like the rest of you. There was something about them. But like the show, in a certain way, you had to wait a long time and then it never happened. The happy ending is in the show.”
“It was pretty obvious. We didn’t know for sure because we never asked either of them, but yes, we thought that perhaps might be going on. It did not wind up inspiring [Ross and Rachel’s storyline] honestly at all. If anything, their ability to channel those feelings into Ross and Rachel just made the longing all the more relatable.”
The show’s most controversial romance
While everyone was equally invested in Ross and Rachel’s relationship, they were dead set against one of the other major romances, according to Bright:
“When we first started the arc where Joey was going to get together with Rachel. The cast revolted when they read the first script on it: ‘No. Joey would never do this to Ross.’ Marta and David were able to explain how it wasn’t going to end in a place that would compromise Joey as a character for stealing his buddy’s girlfriend. That almost didn’t happen. And we would have lost what was a very good season for that. I’m glad they won that one.”
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Future of the characters
The cast shared where they think their characters are now (like Matt LeBlanc’s idea that Joey owned a sandwich shop in Venice Beach). So what do the writers think? Kaufmann revealed:
“Ross and Rachel have done a lot of marriage counseling, but they’re doing well. Monica owns a restaurant by now. Phoebe has two biological children and seven foster kids with Mike (Paul Rudd). And Chandler and Joey form a family band. I’m kidding but I think Matt nailed it for Joey and Chandler is in a job he hates and still sneaks cigarettes once in a while.”
For Crane, he said he liked to think of the characters as happy — one of the reasons not to reboot the show, as it would introduce conflict into their happy endings. However, he mused:
“I’d like to believe that for Joey Tribbiani, there was an acting gig out there that worked. That something took him beyond Days of Our Lives and that Joey could have gotten a sitcom. I don’t mean the sitcom, Joey; but Joey could’ve gotten a show [that wasn’t Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E.].”
Of course, fans did see more of Joey on the ill-fated spinoff, Joey, which didn’t play out as Bright imagined:
“I’m the producer of the show and that storyline did not do service to the character. Joey should have come out to Hollywood and had the time of his life. It should have been far more an Entourage than it was this family ‘Joey needs to grow up’ show.”
“Joey would have gotten a pilot, come out to Hollywood and had the time of his life and gotten into all kinds of trouble. And we would have discovered new parts of Joey in the process. It would have been a lot more fun than the nerdy nephew and the barking sister. I don’t even know where it’s streaming now. We all would have watched the Joey I imagined, but that’s what happens when you finish one show that’s a giant hit: you go back to the back of the line and you don’t know anything and the network and studio get their imprints on it. That’s not the way Friends came together, I can tell you that.”
As for trying to do another spinoff or a reboot, the response from all three creators was a resounding “no.” Bright reasoned:
“No, because it won’t be as good. These six actors, the time, the place, everything was special. We don’t want to look at the show as a brand that you just spin it off into another generation. If we were going to do it, we want to do something maybe with the six characters, but we don’t want to do that because as Crane says, ‘We’d have to undo everything we did to make another show happen.’ And we’re not interested in doing it. It was a perfect ending; don’t touch it.”
“Maybe someday somebody will come up with a great idea and present to us how they envision making a movie. But doing the Friends movie with this cast — older Friends — it’s not the same show. All the energy from the show wasn’t just the chemistry of the actors, but it was driven by youth. That, ‘What’s my job? Who am I going to be in love with? What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’ That’s what drove the show. Imagining divorce issues and other things? None of it is appealing. If you’re going to do a truthful version of what would have happened to them, they can’t all still be married and together.”
“Absolutely not. Nope. No. There’s no reason to. It’s never going to be the six of them, it’s a whole different show and it’s not a show I’m particularly interested in doing. And if it’s not fantastic, or as good as Friends, it’s going to just piss people off.”
And Crane said:
“No, because inevitably, if you do something like that, you’re competing with the original show and why do that? We were so blessed. We managed to get lightning in a bottle with the perfect cast and it all came together so well. The odds of that happening again are really slim. It’s like if you won the lottery, stop buying tickets.”
Were they on a break?
No Friends retrospective would be complete without the inevitable question — were Ross and Rachel on a break? Bright asserted:
“Yeah! There was a break. They weren’t on a break with honor. On a break, you don’t expect someone to move on quite that quickly, admittedly, but they were on a break.”
While Crane shared:
“I’m not answering that! I love that there is no definitive answer to that question. From a writing standpoint, something that characters can argue about for years is the best question ever. You could make the argument that of course they were on a break. The other side of it is, well, they may have been on a break technically, but come on.”
What do you think, Friends fans? Shocked by any of these revelations? Or just enjoying all the Friends content? Let us know your thoughts in the comments (below)!
[Image via HBO Max/YouTube]