With 10 seasons, 236 episodes, a record of over 52 million viewers in one night, and an immense cultural impact, Friends is without doubt one of the most popular TV series ever produced. But do you know the recipe for its success?
Get a rare look behind the scenes of the show with the documentary, below, which will take you through the entire, hard-working process of making an episode of the famous sitcom! If you thought writing for a comedy program was easy, this 42-minute film, called The One that Goes Behind the Scenes and produced by Discovery Channel back in 1999, will make you think again!
Serious throwback to the ’90s when Friends was still a TV triumph, we meet the people at the source of the show’s creative genius as they prepare season 6, and more precisely, its highly anticipated premiere episode.
From the first draft to the final sound mixing, we discover every aspect of the show’s episode-making process. And it all begins in the writer’s room where each new storyline truly comes to life under the supervision of head writer, Adam Chase. After having penned a first version of a new episode (in this case, the one following The One in Vegas in which we left Ross and Rachel married after a night of binge-drinking, and Chandler and Monica about to do the same), Chase puts the script on the table for the writing staff – made of about 12 members – to give input and make suggestions on how to make it the funniest possible.
And there’s a lot of pressure on those creative people’s shoulders! When the documentary was shot, Friends was a very big deal for NBC as it ranked in the top 10 rated shows on TV with an average of over 24 million viewers per week, making it a crucial Thursday night “Must See TV” program for the network. “Without it, we would have a very difficult time keeping the numbers as high as they are,” explains Erin Gough, who was, back then, NBC Prime Time Series Manager.
We also meet the 3 people probably feeling that pressure the most: Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane, who used to write musicals in New York City before creating Friends and starting their now famous production company, Bright / Kauffman / Crane. Supervising 3 TV series at the same time, the trio had to oversee every production details to make sure each episode and season will still hit the mark (after all, they had already made for themselves quite a reputation).
But one of the most fascinating parts of the documentary probably is the rehearsals, when we discover how much of a script can still be re-written as the creative and production team watch Jennifer Anniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry perform what was initially put on paper. As they check if every line works, writers want to make sure jokes are funny – or it will mean a long night of re-writing ahead!
Then comes the day of shooting. 300 spectators will take their seats to be an essential part of the new installment. The challenge? Keeping them entertained! (An episode can take up to 5 hours to shoot and the change of sets resulted in a 20-minute wait between scenes.)
Filmed with 4 to 5 cameras, synchronized to make sure they won’t be in each other’s way (a procedure called “camera blocking”), an episode has its success mostly relying on the show’s cast, particularly when a joke falls flat with the audience and writers only have a few minutes to come up with an alternative. Thankfully, Matthew Perry seems to have been a great source of inspiration and fixed faulty lines more than once!
Between making sure the script hits the spot, re-creating numerous sets to a T, and trimming every sequences so that the final version of an episode would fit the exact standard duration, the team working on Friends faced many daily challenges to ensure the continuing success of the series throughout its 10 seasons. But, as we learn in the documentary, it was all part of the most enjoyable work experience they’ve ever had – and we believe them!
“I laugh every day,” says a member of the crew. “My life is going to be longer because of Friends!”