The Friends reunion is almost here!
The two-hour HBO Max special debuts on Thursday, featuring the cast of the legendary sitcom — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — taking a look back at their old apartments, iconic moments and nostalgic memories from the show’s 10-season run.
The very first episode of Friends hit the NBC airwaves on Sept. 22, 1994 — and a cultural phenomenon was born. The beloved sitcom spanned 236 episodes, birthed six Hollywood superstars and featured countless up-and-coming famous faces and fan favorites along the way.
Later, Friends found a new audience on Netflix and now, on HBO Max, where young millennials and Gen Z viewers can binge to their hearts content — even if a few of the outdated concepts like answering machine flubs and pay-per-view porn go a bit over their heads.
But even the biggest Friends fan can’t know everything about the series. (And believe me, as someone whose family and friends will no longer play Friends trivia with me because it “isn’t fun when you’re screaming all the answers,” I have tried.) So buckle up, smelly cats, here’s a look at some little-known facts about everyone’s favorite Friends.
- The names of the six main Friends were inspired by characters from All My Children.
The Friends writers peppered the sitcom with references to the iconic soap opera, including their main characters’ names: Chandler for the Chandler family, Ross for Ross Chandler, Monica for Monique (Daisy Cortlandt’s alter ego), Joey for Joseph “Joey” Martin, Phoebe for Phoebe Tyler Wallingford, and Rachel’s last name, Green, is for Janet Green.
- The cast almost looked totally different.
Hank Azaria, who went on to play David, Phoebe’s scientist beau, auditioned twice for the role of Joey, while Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer tried out for Chandler. In 2015, Cryer opened up to James Corden about the tragic way he missed out on the role, recalling that he auditioned in London and his casting tape got stuck at customs and never made it to producers!
- Phoebe was supposed to be goth… or Ellen.
Janeane Garofalo was in talks for an early version of the show, which featured a “goth girl” character, who eventually evolved into the flighty, optimistic hippie we know and love. Ellen DeGeneres also reportedly turned the role down of Phoebe, a decision that changed the course of TV as we know it.
- Chandler and Phoebe were originally intended to be supporting characters.
“We thought, oh, they’ll provide humor,” creator Marta Kauffman explained. “They gave us much, much more than that. They became so central to the ensemble.”
- That adorable Vegas #TBT was the cast’s “last shot at anonymity.”
Before the Friends pilot aired, director James Burrows flew the cast to Las Vegas for dinner at Spago and a night at the tables.
“He handed us each a couple hundred bucks and said, ‘Now go into the casino and go gamble, because this is the last time you’ll be able to walk into a casino anonymously,'” Jennifer Aniston told DeGeneres while reminiscing about her early days on the show. “We had no clue what he was talking about… and sure enough, that was the last time we were able to [do that].”
(The cast later returned to the same casino to shoot Ross and Rachel’s drunken Sin City wedding in season 5.)
- Some storylines were scrapped by NBC for being too risque at the time.
Fluctuating network standards and practices throughout Friends’ 10-year run meant that certain things were allowed to be shown and mentioned during their 8 p.m. time slot, and certain things were not.
For example: “We had an episode where Monica and Rachel are arguing over who gets to use the last condom,” Kauffman recalled. “Both of them wanted to have sex that night, they were both in relationships, it was a big night for both of them, and there was one condom left. We could show the box, we could shake the box so you could hear the condom, but we couldn’t say condom.”
- NBC also had some big opinions on the female characters’ promiscuity.
While Joey seemed to have free rein to be a leering lothario, there was a bit of a double standard from some top NBC brass in the early years. Creator David Crane recalled pushback from network head Don Meyer when the Friends team was shooting the pilot — over the issue of Monica sleeping with Paul the wine guy on their first date.
Meyer was so concerned, in fact, that the network decided to poll the audience on their opinions following a screening of the episode. “The network gave the audience a questionnaire that was so skewed,” Crane recalled. “It basically said: ‘When she does this, is she a trollop? Is she a slut?'”
“The audience all came back with, ‘No, we still like her,'” he said of the results. “Then Don got on board because he said, ‘Well, I’m OK with it because she gets what she deserves when the guy sort of screws her over.'”
- One of the show’s most shocking reveals caused a 27-second applause break.
Remember that moment in the season four finale when Monica pops up from underneath Chandler’s covers in London, revealing their very first hookup to the audience? Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox do, seeing as the massive audience reaction caused them to hold the position for “27 seconds” — according to Perry — as they waited for the cheers to die down.
“I was so happy that people were excited and surprised,” Cox recalled.
- Rachel’s famous “trifle” was a product of culinary confusion in the writers’ room.
Friends writer Greg Malins told EW that Rachel’s misguided culinary concoction was born from some confusion among the writing staff about what a trifle actually was. Apparently, some had mistaken trifle for tripe (the edible lining of a cow or sheep’s stomach), leading to a nauseating clarification — and inspiration for one of the show’s funniest gags. “We were like, ‘Doesn’t a trifle have meat in it?’ We’re like, ‘No, it’s got pudding in it,'” Malins recalled. “You have to understand, back then there’s no internet, and there weren’t a lot of cooking shows on TV.”
In the episode, Rachel’s cookbook pages get stuck together, leading her to follow half of two very different recipes to concoct a trifle-shepherd’s pie hybrid. But Malins wasn’t so sure the storyline would fly. “There’s no way I can write this so that it’s believable,” he recalled thinking. “All credit to this, and everything else in life, goes to the cast. Because we could write the craziest s**t and then they could make it believable every time.”
- The show kept it in the family — more than once.
There are a few Easter eggs from the cast’s family members throughout the seasons — beyond the obvious spouse cameos from the likes of Brad Pitt and David Arquette. Perry’s father, John Bennett Perry, appeared in a season 4 episode as the father of Rachel’s beau, Joshua (Tate Donovan).
And in season 7, when Rachel is trying to find a new officiant for Chandler and Monica’s wedding, she runs into a Greek Orthodox priest coming out of the “Anastassakis/Papasifakis Wedding.” Anastassakis is Aniston’s family name — her grandfather anglicized it when the family immigrated from Greece in the 1930s.
- Janice’s iconic laugh came about because actress Maggie Wheeler was trying to cover herself if she broke during a funny scene.
“The writers gave me that ‘Oh. My. God.’ line, so that was gold,” Wheeler told EWof her character’s signature phrase. “I put my spin on it and that, of course, is history.”
“The laugh I created in the first episode because Matthew Perry is very, very funny and he is likely to make you laugh in the middle of the scene,” she added. “I was a little worried, because I hadn’t been on the set yet, and I wanted to be able to do a good job so I thought, OK, this character needs to be able to laugh. He’s probably going to crack me up and I need to be able to cover, so I created the laugh. We laughed all the time.”
- And Janice’s appearances were always kept secret from the studio audience.
“They would keep me hidden — I could barely come down to get a doughnut,” Wheeler recalled. “I had to stay in my dressing room until the last moment and then they’d secretly move me from behind the set to the right spot and they’d keep a black screen so the audience couldn’t see me until I made my first entrance.”
- Ross stays 29 years old for three years.
In seasons three and four, Ross mentions that he’s 29 — and in season five, he says he’s getting divorced twice before he’s 30. Ross also ended up with two birthdays in the Friends canon — Oct. 18 and sometime in December.