'Friends' Creators Reveal Surprises, Regrets, Reactions to HBO Max Move


Monica (Courtney Cox) is tricked into making an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for the group, who end up arriving an hour late after going to a hockey game. Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) head gets stuck in the door until he breaks it down, ruining the meal, but all is forgiven when Monica gets a phone call that she and Chandler (Matthew Perry) have been selected to adopt a baby. 

Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman and executive producer Kevin Bright were there for a movie theater full of passionate viewers at the Tribeca TV Festival on Friday night.

The trio reminisced about the hit NBC sitcom in a panel discussion following a big-screen airing of two fan-favorite episodes, selected by the creators and exec producer: "The One With the Embryos" [in which Monica (Courteney Cox), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) compete in a trivia game that ends with the men and women switching apartments] and "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" [in which Chandler and Monica's secret romance is finally revealed to the last two friends not in the loop: Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Ross (David Schwimmer), as Phoebe and Rachel have some fun with Chandler].

The chat is just one of a plethora of ways viewers and businesses are marking the 25th anniversary of the series premiere of the show that went on to become a phenomenon.

But speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the Tribeca TV Festival event, Bright, Crane and Kauffman said before Friends debuted on Sept. 22, 1994, they were just hoping their comedy about six twenty-somethings living in New York wouldn't get canceled.

"We had just done a show that was canceled after six [episodes] and we were like, 'Let us get to seven and we'll be happy. That's our victory,'" Crane recalled. "And then when they picked us up for the back nine we thought, 'Wow, this is really going.'"

Kauffman added, "When you set out to do something, you set out to do a good show and you hope people watch and then you keep your head down and you keep working and you don't really think about success. You wonder if people are watching it but you don't start imagining this and pop-ups and celebrating 25 years, which is so very long ago. No, it never, never occurred to me that we would be standing here."

After airing for 10 seasons on NBC, Friends is now in syndication, with reruns airing several times a day on multiple channels, on DVD and Blu-ray and (for a few more months at least) streaming on Netflix.

Recently Netflix subscribers were crushed to learn that the series they'd happily binge-watched since 2015 would be leaving for WarnerMedia's new streaming service HBO Max.

Speaking to THR about the move, Bright, Crane and Kauffman, who still has ties to Netflix through Grace and Frankie, said it makes sense for the Warner Bros.-produced show to be with its parent company, while praising Netflix for bringing the show to a new audience.

"It makes so much sense that we're on HBO Max," Kauffman said. "I understand it. I get it. The show is still all around the world in syndication. So I think other people are more upset than we are."

Bright added, "In show business there's always change. Where we win on both sides is we feel privileged to be with a company like Netflix to stream us the first time and we're privileged to be with HBO Max in the second run. It's really exciting what they're starting over there and we're happy to be a part of it."

While much has been written about Friends over the years — and divulged in TV specials and DVD commentary — Bright, Crane and Kauffman still shared some new tidbits even superfans might not know.

Below, THR breaks down some of the most noteworthy revelations from the Tribeca TV Festival's 25th Anniversary celebration panel.

A Clip-Free Opening Theme Song

Loyal, eagle-eyed Friends viewers might have enjoyed keeping track of which clips made it into the opening credits. And it seemed the series' creative team enjoyed playing around with that part of the show, changing the footage roughly twice a season. But if it were up to Bright, the opener would just feature the six castmembers dancing around in a fountain.

The head of NBC at the time, Bright recalled, called him the day after the pilot aired, when the opener just featured the fountain footage, and said, "I want that title sequence gone."

"I went, 'What's the problem? It says we're young, we're hip, we're dancing in a fountain and you can't dance with us,' Bright said. "He says, 'Seriously, it says all of those things? … Just do clips like Laverne & Shirley.' The compromise, as you saw for many years, there were some clips but half of it was the original title sequence. The way we did it, this should have been the title sequence for the whole series. You never should have seen another one."

Regretted Storylines and Jokes

When asked by the audience if there were storylines that they regret, Kauffman had a couple of examples ready: the one when Phoebe starts dating her sister Ursula's (Lisa Kudrow) stalker, played by David Arquette ("we did a lot of rewriting on that to make it work"), and Phoebe and her then-love interest, played by Charlie Sheen, going through an outbreak of the chicken pox during their romantic weekend together.

Meanwhile Crane, who admitted he doesn't remember a lot of specific scenes and jokes after working on 10 seasons 15-25 years ago, said that when he does stumble upon an episode, he'll occasionally wonder, "Wow, really? We went with that?"

"There are some that are better than others," he said.

Kauffman added, "It's much harder for me to enjoy the good moments when there are moments in it where I'm going, 'Oh my God, we let that happen? We did that.'"

"We couldn't stay 10 more minutes and just find a better joke?," Crane said he finds himself wondering. "But that's just us beating ourselves up."

Mad About You Helped Create Phoebe

Loyal viewers of NBC's Thursday night lineup when Friends premiered knew that Kudrow already had a role on Mad About You, which was originally Friends' lead-in, as the inept waitress Ursula. The characters of Phoebe and Ursula were made into twins, and Crane revealed details about those discussions, saying that they had to get Mad About You creators Danny Jacobson and Paul Reiser to give their permission to let Phoebe be Ursula's twin. They were happy to oblige, perhaps because of Crane's relationship with Mad About You writer Jeffrey Klarik, but Crane said he would never let another show do that to one of Friends' characters.

"I wouldn't let anyone do that with a character on our show," Crane said. "You know what I mean? Like if they came to us and said can we have David Schwimmer on our show as a twin? No."

Bizarre Viewer Encounters

Bright, Crane and Kauffman took turns sharing their oddest encounters with Friends followers, with Kauffman saying that her rabbi once stopped her in the parking lot and demanded to know what happened with Ross and Rachel. Bright, meanwhile, recalled being recognized by Japanese tourists in Santa Monica who said they knew him because of Friends DVD extras. But Crane had perhaps the longest encounter. He revealed that a flight attendant saw his name on a ticket and spent a six-hour flight talking to him.

Ross and Rachel Forever

Kauffman shares Aniston's view that Ross and Rachel would be living happily ever after, but things might not be quite so happy for their daughter, Emma.

"Yes, I think they would still be together," she told THR. "And as David Crane said earlier, Emma would be in therapy."