“We always felt that the strength of the show was that it wasn’t just jokes,” Friends co-creator David Crane tells EW. “It was really about caring about these six people in an emotional way, even when it was funny. If it were just really good jokes, I don’t think we would have been there as long as we were.”
To celebrate Friends‘ 25th anniversary, EW spoke with Crane about everything from the series’ naming convention to Ross and Rachel.
When it came to naming its episodes, Friends took a simple, straightforward approach: Each episode started with “The One” and went from there. There was “The One With the Football,” “The One Where No One’s Ready,” “The One Where Everybody Finds Out,” and so on. (You get the idea.) And for co-creators Crane and Marta Kauffman, that came from experience. “We’d been on shows where everyone’s trying to come up with really pun-y titles and that is not the best use of anyone’s time. Let’s cut to the chase, it’s the one with the thing and now we can move on to actually working on the show itself,” Crane says. “Because that’s how you always refer to a TV show: ‘Did you see the one with the thing?'”
It wasn’t always easy to come up with what scenarios Ross, Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, and Monica would find themselves in week to week. (Aside from their regularly scheduled trips to Central Perk, of course.) So it’s no surprise that, from time to time, the writers drew from their own experiences. “People would tell stories and you’d go, ‘Wait that’s an episode,'” Crane says. “I don’t think people told stories with the intention of them being episodes but then things happen.” Such as the story that’s been told about writer Adam Chase buying a pair of leather pants. Sounds familiar? “The rest of us took it from there after giving him a really hard time about his leather pants,” Crane says, referencing Ross’s terrible experience with leather pants, lotion, and way too much baby powder.
“You never ever anticipate that kind of thing,” Crane says about the way Ross’s “pivot” moment became a catchphrase with fans of the show. “You’re just trying to tell funny stories and have it work. There was never an eye toward, ‘Wow, this is an iconic moment.'”
And when it came to the “pivot” story specifically, the writers weren’t sure it would even work. “I remember in the writers’ room there was a discussion about, ‘Can we do a story as simple as getting a couch up a flight of stairs,'” Crane says. But once filming started, the answer was an obvious “yes.” Crane remembers realizing that they had something special when he watched David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, and Matthew Perry attempt to carry Ross’ new couch up a narrow and contorted staircase, as seen in the video above. “Even on stage that was fantastically funny,” he says. “The three of them were just brilliant and it was all they could do to get through it.”
Crane also recognizes that Ross’ couch struggle was one of the most realistic moment the show had when it came to tiny New York apartments (and apartment buildings.) “At least once on the show space was a problem,” Crane jokes. “They all lived in those apartments, but try to get a couch up a flight of stairs! That’s New York. That’s where we captured the New York we actually lived in.”
Ross and Rachel
Although it’s been talked about that Chandler and Monica weren’t always going to end up together, the same can’t be said of Ross and Rachel. (Remember, he’s her lobster!) “In the pilot, they’re a thing,” Crane says. “And he says at the end of the pilot, ‘Would it be okay if I ask you out sometime?’ Amazingly we got through a whole first season without him actually doing that but when we came to the [series] finale, there was no question in our minds. People had stuck with us for 10 years, they had to end up together. The challenge was: How do we do it in a way that’s surprising and engaging and in a way that you don’t see coming? And hopefully we got that when she gets off the plane.”
All those guest stars
Despite getting some of the biggest names in Hollywood to be a part of the show — Robin Williams, George Clooney, and Julia Roberts, to name a few — Crane says the stories weren’t written with specific actors in mind. “We weren’t really guest-star driven,” he says. “We didn’t write episodes for people. We would just write episodes and then casting would come back and say, ‘Here’s who is a possibility.’ And every time they said like, ‘Oh, Julia Roberts is doing the show,’ I was like, ‘That’s impossible! Are you crazy?!’ I was always surprised and delighted.”