Legendary television director James Burrows has "Friends" in high places.
The iconic director was recently honored by the Television Academy for his career that's spanned five decades in the TV industry, and stars from some of his best-loved shows (he's directed everything from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" to the new CBS series "The Millers") were on hand to help him celebrate. But one of the most memorable moments was a surprise appearance by "Friends" alum Jennifer Aniston.
Aniston told the story behind her "Friends" casting, and how another show she was on at the time — the short-lived CBS sitcom "Muddling Through" — almost caused her to miss out on the role of a lifetime.
"I remember [Burrows] came up to me when we were shooting the pilot and he said, you know, 'Who are you and what's your story?'" Aniston recalled. "And I was like, 'Well, I just have done a bunch of pilots and this is just like my sixth pilot and I'm just hoping that it goes. And he said, 'But you're on another show… you know they're gonna pick that show up just to try to mess with 'Friends,' because this is gonna be a great show.' And I was like, 'No, they would never do that!'"
But they did do it. "Muddling Through" was picked up for an unprecedented three episodes.
"I mean, what kind of order was that?" Aniston laughed.
It all worked out, as we know: "Muddling Through" went off the air two weeks before "Friends" began, and Aniston and her five co-stars (Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Lisa Kudrow) skyrocketed to superstardom and million-dollar per-episode paychecks. But before "Friends," they were just a group of broke kids with big dreams.
Burrows recounted a story about a trip to Las Vegas shortly before the Emmy-winning sitcom premiered. After finagling a plane out of then-Warner Bros. head Les Moonves, Burrows took the "Friends" cast to Vegas for dinner at Caesars Palace and Spago. It was there that he had an epiphany about the show's young stars.
"I don't know why I said this," he revealed. "I said, 'This is your last shot at anonymity.' I said, 'Once this show comes on the air, you guys will never be able to go anywhere without being hounded.'"
He also fronted them money to gamble. (Aniston and her co-stars were all broke, although she later won her new boss some money at the craps table.) In exchange, they each gave him $200 checks — which he later cashed.
"I shouldn't have [cashed the checks]," Burrows said. "I should have put [them] on a wall. They would be worth something now. And that was it. They came back, it premiered, and they don't have a shot at anonymity anymore."
Speaking of anonymity, Aniston told moderator Pete Hammond that she wouldn't say no to a "Friends" reunion: "I'd honestly go back to it if we could... I would," she said. But she added: "I don't think people would want to see us today."
Wanna bet, Jen?