Just before Friends hit screens back in 1994, long before it became a cultural phenomenon that would live well beyond its 10-year run, only once did co-creator Marta Kauffman think she might have hit on something big.
It was a fleeting but memorable moment when producers of the show, which transformed six relatively unknown actors into some of the most famous faces on the planet, first brought together Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.
“The only thing that ever occurred to me was on the day that we had our first rehearsal and the moment that all six of them were on set together acting in a scene, I got chills up my spine and I thought ‘this is special’,” Kauffman recalls. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to work or be successful, I just had a sense that day that we had something very special on our hands.”
Other than that, she says it had “never once occurred to me” the show about six friends living in New York City — based loosely on her own experiences in the city that never sleeps — would explode into something that still has broadcasters scrambling to get their hands on this TV gold.
To this day, the now-seasoned television creative pinches herself when she comes across the show — now available in its entirety on Aussie streaming service Binge — while working the remote.
Cast of TV program Friends Matthew Perry with Courtney Cox Arquette, Matt Le Blanc and (bottom) Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer.
“It still freaks me out, it still surprises me,” she says. “I was flipping through TV stations yesterday and I saw on my guide ‘Friends, Friends, Friends, Friends’ and I thought ‘holy shit, that’s something I worked on!’”
But Kauffman admits luck played a big part in the huge success of Friends – right from the very start.
When she and co-creator David Crane were initially casting for those six friends – Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross – they hired each one individually and didn’t test them together as an ensemble.
This decision effectively opened up the possibility of the six falling flat in the chemistry department, a key element in a show about close mates who are constantly in each others’ lives.
“You never know once you get these people together what the personalities are going to be like,” she says. “We didn’t have chemistry reads, we just cast characters one at a time and really didn’t know how it was going to all come together.”
Of course, time has shown it all worked out just fine.
The cast of Friends at a stage dedication ceremony in Los Angeles in 2004. Picture: AP
“We had this amazing casting director that helped us find these six people and they clicked and it was part of what I consider to be the magic of the show, the stars were aligned, there was something magical and part of this was that these six people loved each other.”
Sitcoms come and go, but only a few are picked up and adored by multiple generations – sometimes long after the final episode goes to air. Seinfeld, The Office and, more recently, Veep are a few examples.
Kauffman believes there are a few elements that have helped Friends stand the test of time and they’re simple but rare attributes.
“It’s a combination of things. I think it’s characters who you would like to know, it is a warm and cosy show, it is comfort food,” she says. “You would love to have a beer with these people or have them over to your house. With television there’s a certain kind of intimacy that you don’t get with movies. You’re home and watching and folding your laundry and sitting in your robe and these people are in your home.”
Watching as her own children’s friends have discovered the show has been fun for Kauffman, and sometimes just plain funny.
A few years back, her daughter returned home from school with a story about a friend’s great new discovery.
“One of her friends came up to her at school and said to her ‘have you seen that new show called Friends?’ She thought it was a period piece,” Kauffman laughs.