Nearly 30 years since its premiere, Friends remains one of the most beloved TV shows of all time, continuing to draw in new fans through syndication and streaming. The sitcom wasn’t without its controversies and behind-the-scenes drama though. Friends has been widely criticized for its lack of diversity, and some of the cast members’ personal struggles during those years — divorce, infertility, addiction — are well-documented. It turns out the crew may have been dealing with their own issues surrounding the production, as one of the former writers has detailed her time on Friends in a new book, and her experience sounds absolutely miserable.
There’s been a lot of focus in recent months on the working conditions and fair treatment of writers, thanks to the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. Patty Lin painted a pretty demoralizing picture of her time on Friends in her upcoming book End Credits, where she talks about the stresses of the 14-person staff producing more than 20 episodes per season. It sounds like the six main cast members didn’t necessarily make things any easier, as Lin opened up about their negative reactions to the scripts and how they’d get things changed during the table reads they had over breakfast. In an excerpt from the book (via Time), Lin wrote:
The actors seemed unhappy to be chained to a tired old show when they could be branching out, and I felt like they were constantly wondering how every given script would specifically serve them. They all knew how to get a laugh, but if they didn’t like a joke, they seemed to deliberately tank it, knowing we’d rewrite it. Dozens of good jokes would get thrown out just because one of them had mumbled the line through a mouthful of bacon. [Co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman] never said, ‘This joke is funny. The actor just needs to sell it.’
Patty Lin joined the Friends crew in 2000, more than halfway through its decade-long run, and she alleged that the six stars — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — were over it seven seasons into the series’ run on NBC. They apparently knew how to tip things in their favor, too.
It’s well-known how the cast stuck together to negotiate for equal salaries — each earning $1 million per episode in Friends’ final seasons — but Patty Lin said they also threw their weight around in order to change the jokes or better serve their characters. She continued in the book:
Once the first rewrite was finished, we’d have a run-through on the set, where the actors would rehearse and work out blocking with the director. Then everyone would sit around Monica and Chandler’s apartment and discuss the script. This was the actors’ first opportunity to voice their opinions, which they did vociferously. They rarely had anything positive to say, and when they brought up problems, they didn’t suggest feasible solutions. Seeing themselves as guardians of their characters, they often argued that they would never do or say such-and-such. That was occasionally helpful, but overall, these sessions had a dire, aggressive quality that lacked all the levity you’d expect from the making of a sitcom.
Over the years, those connected to the show — and sometimes the cast members themselves — have spoken about pushing back on stories that didn’t feel authentic to their characters, including Matthew Perry refusing to do a plot about Chandler going to a strip club because he liked the sandwiches.
This seems like pretty typical behavior for actors on lots of series, especially long-running and successful ones, but it definitely becomes a problem when those notes are given with an “aggressive” tone, as Lin suggested. Also, multiple script changes were apparently hard on Friends’ amazing guest stars, as well, with Jennifer Gray saying that’s one reason she didn’t want to return as Mindy and the character was recast.
In addition to Friends, Patty Lin has also been a writer for series including Breaking Bad, Freaks and Geeks and Desperate Housewives. She said the biggest thing she learned in the season she worked on the famed comedy was that she didn’t want to work on sitcoms again, and after hearing what her experience was like, who could blame her?
If you want to read more about Patty Lin’s career in TV writing, End Credits is set for release on August 29. All 10 seasons of Friends are available to stream with a Max subscription.