Friends (stylized as F•R•I•E•N•D•S) is an American sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, which aired on NBC from September 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004. The series revolves around a group of friends in Manhattan. The series was produced by Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television. The original executive producers were Crane, Kauffman and Kevin S. Bright, with numerous others being promoted in later seasons.
Kauffman and Crane began developing Friends under the title Insomnia Cafe in November/December 1993. They presented the idea to Bright, with whom they had previously worked, and together they pitched a seven-page treatment of the series to NBC. After several script rewrites and changes, including a second title change to Friends Like Us, the series was finally named Friends and premiered on NBC's coveted Thursday 8:30 pm timeslot. Filming for the series took place at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California in front of a live studio audience. The series finale (the 236th episode), airing on May 6, 2004, was watched by 51.1 million American viewers, making it the fourth most watched series finale in television history and the most watched episode of the decade.
Friends received positive reviews throughout its run, becoming one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. The series won many awards and was nominated for 63 Primetime Emmy Awards. The series, an instant hit from its debut, was also very successful in the ratings, consistently ranking in the top ten in the final primetime ratings. Many critics now regard it as one of the finest shows in television history, including TV Guide, which ranked it No. 21 on their list of the 50 greatest TV shows of all time. In 1997, the episode "The One with the Prom Video" was ranked No. 100 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time. The series made a large cultural impact, which continues today. The Central Perk coffee house that was featured prominently in the series has inspired various imitations throughout the world. The series continues in syndication worldwide. All ten seasons are available in standard definition on DVD and in high definition on Blu-ray. The spin-off series Joey was created to follow up with the series after the finale.
The series featured six main characters throughout its run, with many other characters recurring throughout all ten seasons.
- Jennifer Aniston portrays Rachel Green, a fashion enthusiast and Monica Geller's best friend from childhood. Rachel first moves in with Monica in season one after nearly marrying Barry Farber whom she realizes she does not love. Rachel and Ross Geller are later involved in an on-again-off-again relationship throughout the series. Rachel dates other men during the series, such as an Italian neighbor, Paolo in season one, her client Joshua Bergin in season four, her assistant Tag in season seven, and Joey Tribbiani in season ten. Rachel’s first job is as a waitress at the coffeehouse Central Perk, but she later becomes an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale's in season three, and a buyer at Ralph Lauren in season five. Rachel and Ross have a daughter named Emma in "The One Where Rachel Has a Baby, Part Two" at the end of season 8.
- Courteney Cox portrays Monica Geller, the mother hen of the group and a chef, known for her perfectionist, bossy and competitive nature. Monica is often jokingly teased by the others for having been extremely overweight as a child, especially by her brother Ross. Monica works as a chef in various restaurants throughout the show. Monica’s first serious relationship is with family friend Richard Burke who is 21 years her senior. The couple maintains a strong relationship until Richard expresses that he does not want to have children much to Monica’s dismay. Monica and Chandler Bing later start a relationship after spending a night with each other in the season four finale, leading to their marriage in Season seven.
- Lisa Kudrow portrays Phoebe Buffay, an eccentric masseuse and self-taught musician. Phoebe lived in uptown New York with her mother until her mother killed herself and Phoebe took to the streets. Phoebe is ditsy but street smart and writes and sings (badly) her own quirky songs, accompanying herself on the guitar. She has an "evil" identical twin named Ursula who shares Phoebe’s quirkiness but unlike Phoebe seems to be cruel and uncaring. Phoebe is childlike and innocent in disposition. Phoebe tends to use her past misfortunes such as her mother’s suicide as sympathy ploys. Phoebe has three serious relationships. Gary (the cop) in season five, an on and off relationship with Mike Hannigan (Paul Rudd) in seasons nine-ten and David (Hank Azaria) in season one, which ends when he moves to Minsk on a research grant. They reconcile whenever he returns but she eventually rejects him for Mike in season nine. In the last season, she marries Mike.
- Matt LeBlanc portrays Joey Tribbiani, a struggling actor and food lover who becomes famous for his role on Days of our Lives as Dr. Drake Ramoray. Joey is a simple-minded womanizer with many short-term girlfriends throughout the series. Despite his womanizing tendencies Joey is an innocent and caring character with good intentions. Joey often uses the catchphrase pick up line "How you doin'?" in his attempts to win over women. Joey rooms with his best friend Chandler for years and later a while with Rachel. He falls in love with Rachel in season eight. Rachel politely tells Joey that she does not share the same feelings. They eventually date briefly in season ten, but after realizing it will not work due to their friendship (and especially Rachel's complicated relationship with Ross), they return to being friends as before.
- Matthew Perry portrays Chandler Bing, an executive in statistical analysis and data reconfiguration for a large multi-national corporation. Chandler quits his job and becomes a junior copywriter at an advertising agency during season nine. Chandler has a peculiar family history being the son of an erotic novelist mother, and a cross-dressing Las Vegas star father. Chandler is known for his sarcastic sense of humor and bad luck in relationships.Chandler marries Monica in season seven, and they adopt twins at the end of the series. Before his relationship with Monica, Chandler dated Janice Hosenstein in season one and subsequently broke up with her many times. Matthew Perry has expressed his similarities to the character such as his need to break an awkward silence with a joke and difficulties with women when first joining the show.
- David Schwimmer portrays Ross Geller, Monica Geller's older brother, a paleontologist working at the Museum of Natural History, and later a professor of paleontology at New York University. Ross is sweet natured man of good humor, although he is often clumsy and socially awkward. Ross is involved in an on-again-off-again relationship with Rachel throughout the series. Ross has three failed marriages during the series: Rachel, Emily, and Carol, a lesbian who is also the mother of his son, Ben (Cole Sprouse). His failed love life is potentially due to his paranoia and jealousy in relationships and his divorces become a point of humor within the series. He and Rachel have a daughter by the end of season eight and they confess that they are still in love with each other in the final episode.
In their original contracts for the first season, cast members were paid $22,500 per episode. The cast members received different salaries in the second season, beginning from the $20,000 range to $40,000 per episode. Before their salary negotiations for the third season, the cast decided to enter collective negotiations, despite Warner Bros.' preference for individual deals. The actors were given the salary of the least-paid cast member, meaning Aniston and Schwimmer had their salaries reduced. The stars were paid $75,000 per episode in season three, $85,000 in season four, $100,000 in season five, $125,000 in season six, $750,000 in seasons seven and eight, and $1 million in seasons nine and ten. The cast also received syndication royalties beginning with the fifth season. At the time, that financial benefit of a piece of the show's lucrative back end profits had only been given out to stars who had ownership rights in a show, like Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby.
Series creator David Crane wanted all six actors to be equally prominent, and the series was lauded as being "the first true 'ensemble' show". The cast members made efforts to keep the ensemble format and not allow one member to dominate; they entered themselves in the same acting categories for awards, opted for collective salary negotiations, and asked to appear together on magazine cover photos in the first season. The cast members also became best friends off-screen, and guest star Tom Selleck reported sometimes feeling left out.The cast remained good friends after the series' run, most notably Cox and Aniston, with Aniston being godmother to Cox and David Arquette's daughter, Coco. In the official farewell commemorative book Friends 'Til the End, each separately acknowledged in interviews that the cast had become their family.