From Casting Struggles to Marcel the Monkey: 'Generation Friends' Goes Inside the NBC Sitcom

Author Saul Austerlitz gives a behind-the-scenes look at the long-running show in his new book, available on bookshelves Tuesday, amid the show's 25th anniversary.
Warner Bros./Photofest
NBC's 'Friends'

NBC's long-running sitcom Friends is about to commemorate its 25th anniversary Sept. 22. The series famously centered on six pals, played by Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry, who navigate the trials and tribulations of adulthood in New York City. Over its 10-season run, the NBC series grew into a cultural phenomenon, earning 62 Emmy nominations during its tenure and even garnering 52.5 million viewers for its 2004 series finale.

Amid the series' 25th anniversary — and countdown for the series to leave Netflix in 2020 and head over to WarnerMedia's new HBO Max — Friends continues to prove its relevance. An immersive Friends pop-up experience is taking place in New York thru Oct. 7. The show also will be feted at the third annual Tribeca TV Festival with a screening and conversation with executive producers Kevin Bright, David Crane and Marta Kauffman. 

The sitcom has inspired a myriad of co-branded products this year, including set pieces replicated for an IKEA ad campaign, an apothecary table from Pottery Barn and a Friends LEGO set complete with Central Perk and LEGO characters, released Sept. 1. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf commemorated the 25th anniversary by opening two Central Perk Cafe pop-ups on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica and on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, which ran from Aug. 16-23. 

Now the series is getting the book treatment, in Saul Austerlitz's Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era, available in bookshelves everywhere Tuesday. Through his interviews and research, the author goes behind the scenes of the iconic show for old fans and new ones to marvel at what made the show the pop-culture phenomenon it became. 

he Hollywood Reporter takes a look at some of the accounts in Austerlitz's new book, from finding the perfect cast to creating iconic storylines. Here are the takeaways:

The Series Was Not Originally Called Friends

When creating the concept of the series, Crane and Kauffman first titled the show Insomnia Cafe, but it was later changed to Across the Hall (to play with the characters' apartment taking on more prominence). The pilot was called "Six of One." After Warner Bros. sponsored an internal name-that-show contest, the name Friends Like Us won. The title was later shortened to Friends. 

NBC Wanted an "Older" Friend to Join the Cast

The one major suggestion NBC had for producers Crane and Kauffman was to add an older secondary character. This suggestion was a result of their concern that if all the main characters were in their 20s, the series wouldn't appeal to all audiences. It was suggested that the inclusion of an older character, even one who only made occasional appearances, could convince older viewers to watch the show perceived to only be directed to younger audiences.

To abide by NBC's wish, Crane and Kauffman created "Pat the Cop," but eventually convinced NBC to drop the idea because they promised that they would create parents for the six protagonists in supporting roles and find older guest stars to attract a more mature audience.

Lack of Diversity 

Though the series was set in New York, known to have an array of diverse residents, the show had a predominantly white cast because television executives were fearful of asking audiences to laugh along with characters of color and be ignored by the majority-white audience.

Producers Wanted Courtney Cox as Rachel

After reading for Rachel — producers thought she would best fit that role — Cox requested to read for Monica as well because she preferred that character. After Cox nailed her reading for Monica, she changed the show's initial concept of Monica as a character who was a "tough, defended, cynical, sarcastic" working-class woman in an "upper-crust sphere" to be more middle-class and suburban. 

Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry Were Hard Gets 

Crane and Kauffman knew Aniston would make the perfect Rachel, but the actress already had shot several episodes of an unaired CBS comedy, Muddling Through, making it difficult to commit to Friends. Determined to have Aniston on their show, CBS and NBC negotiated a deal that allowed Aniston to be cast on both shows but retain first position for Muddling Through (the actress would be able to film six episodes of Friends Like Us, but should Muddling Through be picked up, she would no longer be able to continue filming for the NBC show.) Muddling Through was not picked up.

Meanwhile, prior to being cast, Perry was committed to ABC's then-futuristic sitcom LAX 2194. A young actor named Craig Bierko was then considered for the role of Chandler, but producers soon learned that he ran his lines with Perry because Perry liked the role so much that he was coaching other actors on how to play the role. After it was announced that LAX 2914 would not make it to air on ABC, Perry was eventually cast as Chandler. 

Marcel the Monkey was Not a Favorite in the Writers Room

When the writers debated what animal Ross's pet would be, it was narrowed down to a monkey or an iguana. Despite apprehension from Jeff Strauss, Marcel the Monkey was chosen — only to become difficult to manage. When filming "The One Where the Monkey Gets Away," Marcel got away for real during the episode's pre-shoot. As the set was four stories high, Marcel ascended to the rafters. The writers eventually looked to write out Marcel. 

David Schwimmer Fought for Equal Pay

When approached about reupping his contract for season three, Schwimmer discussed salaries with his co-stars and encouraged them that they all needed to be paid the same. He also suggested they threaten to walk off set should their demands not be met. He argued that they were six equal co-stars with equal time onscreen, and therefore deserved equal salaries. The efforts paid off as each castmember achieved a salary bump the third season with $75K, which got bumped up to $85K for the fourth season, $100K for the fifth and $125K for sixth.

Staying Loyal to Matthew Perry 

Throughout the success of the series, Perry struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse, regularly coming to work hungover. The cast would be "forced to acclimate themselves to the sight of Perry sharking and sweating while trying to remember his lines." Despite having deep troubles, Kevin Bright, Kauffman and Crane refused to fire Perry and remained committed to the actor as a vow to continue looking out for him as part of their television family. 

Owen Wilson Was a Potential Guest Star 

There were talks of recruiting Wilson for a guest-starring role but after the writers read an interview he did where he admitted that his biggest fault was giving writers a hard time, the team collectively decided to not have him guest star as a means of avoiding dealing with his demands.

Generation Friends is on bookshelves now.