Hollywood Flashback: 'Friends' Finally Won the Best Comedy Emmy in 2002

54th Annual Emmy Awards - Cast members of Friends- winner for Best Comedy Series -Getty -H 2020
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"I was so shocked, it was hard" to speak, recalls executive producer Kevin Bright of the show's big win after years of losing to 'Frasier' and other series.

"We'd get to the point where they read the award and it always went the same way," recalls Friends co-creator David Crane of the Emmy Awards during the blockbuster NBC sitcom's first seven seasons. "They'd go, 'And the winner is Frr…' — and time slowed down — and then it always finished with '...asier!' And we would all start to stand and then settle back in our seats."

So, when Friends was nominated again in 2002, no one expected much. The Hollywood Reporter's coverage of the night described the show's track record as that of "a perennial Emmy bridesmaid." But much to everyone's surprise, the comedy finally was awarded the top honor that year — an extreme rarity for a show almost at the end of its run. (Barney Miller also pulled off a best comedy win in its eighth and final season in 1982.)

Producers were unsure if season nine, which premiered four days after the Emmys, would be the last — but there was a 10th still to come. However, the eighth season was a special one: It was the only year Friends claimed the No. 1 spot on Nielsen's Primetime TV ratings, averaging 24.5 million viewers. (Its record, however, was the 52.9 million people who tuned in for the season two finale, "The One After the Super Bowl.")

It was also a standout season for star Jennifer Aniston, who won her first and only Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy (she's up for lead actress in a drama this year for The Morning Show), as well as the show's only Golden Globe for best supporting actress in a series, six months later.

"This is delicious cake, and now we're going to eat it," Aniston said that night. Recalls executive producer Kevin Bright, "I was so shocked, it was hard [to speak]. I remember just being a wreck up onstage; I had this piece of paper in my hand with the names of all the people, administratively and business-wise, that we were supposed to thank."

A planned Friends reunion special on HBO Max has been pushed to fall amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.