HBO’s ‘Friends’ Reunion: Look Behind the Scenes Before ‘The One Where They Get Back Together’

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So, no one told you the fanbase was gonna be this way, huh? Friends, which turned 25 two years ago, was named the second-most streamed show in the world by Nielsen. To appease diehard viewers, Netflix even paid WarnerMedia a staggering $100 million for an additional 12 months of streaming rights. 

But, these days, HBO is the streaming service that’s winning the game (and the lightning round) when it comes to Friends content. Namely, the reunion fans have hoped for since the show’s finale is finally coming to pass on HBO and HBO Max on Thursday, May 27.  That’s right — you can stream it now

Appropriately titled “The One Where They Get Back Together,” the official trailer for the Friends reunion shows all six stars — Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courteney Cox (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), Matthew Perry (Chandler), and David Schwimmer (Ross) — on the show’s original soundstage in Burbank. In addition to giving fans a candid look at their real-life friendships, the cast tests their knowledge of the show, revisits some beloved sets, and partakes in a few sure-to-be-funny table reads. And, yes, there’s a live studio audience — at least for the interview portions.

Without a doubt, this laugh-out-loud sitcom created an idealized version of what it’s like to navigate life with your best friends in your 20s — so much so that it has become television’s version of comfort food. Luckily, there are still some behind-the-scenes secrets that even the most passionate Friends fanatics don’t know — and we’re taking a look at them alongside the release of HBO’s Friends reunion. Could we BE any more excited?!

It Wasn’t Always Called Friends

What’s in a name? Well, a lot, especially if your sitcom becomes one of the most beloved TV shows of all time. But before creators settled on Friends, quite a few different titles were thrown around behind the scenes.

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When the show was pitched, creators titled it “Insomnia Café,” but that quickly changed to the more straightforward “Friends Like Us.” After the pilot had been ordered, an NBC exec slapped the name “Across the Hall” on the show, and while the pilot was being filmed, the sitcom was dubbed “Six of One.” In the end, the simplest title won out — thank goodness.

The Episode Naming Convention Was Done for One Reason…

Upon reflection, the sitcom’s episode naming convention seems pretty brilliant. When you’re chatting with pals about TV, it’s often difficult to recall the names of episodes, making it easier to say, “Oh, it’s the one with the football,” or whatever detail stands out most.

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As fans know, each episode is titled “The One with the ___,” but this colloquial naming convention wasn’t necessarily done out of cleverness. “We’d been on enough shows where people spent so much time trying to come up with clever, punning titles,” co-creator David Crane told Today. “So, I thought of the way you always talk about an episode.” It’s not lazy, per se, but it’s certainly efficient.

Matt LeBlanc Was Broke Before Landing the Show

Before landing his now iconic role of Joey Tribbiani, Matt LeBlanc was the epitome of the struggling actor stereotype. Living from gig to gig, LeBlanc had just $11 in his bank account when he nailed his Friends audition.

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In an interview with Conan O’Brien, LeBlanc recalled that he was almost at the end of his rope — he could barely afford food — and was looking to supplement his income with a second job in the food service industry. Of course, things worked out for the actor, whose net worth now totals $80 million.

The Final Episode Proved Nightmarish for the Makeup Department

When you think of Friends, an extensive hair and makeup budget isn’t exactly something that comes to mind. Given the “mundane” nature of the show — 20-somethings navigating life in New York — the costumes weren’t exactly extravagant either.

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However, when shooting the series finale, the hair and makeup department had their work cut out for them. Overwhelmed that things were finally wrapping up, the cast kept crying between scenes. “I don’t think we [ever took] more time in hair and makeup,” Jennifer Aniston told Oprah during a group interview with the cast.

The Cast Bonded on a Trip to Las Vegas

While the series of episodes set in Las Vegas are iconic, fans will be delighted to know that the cast enjoyed Nevada’s infamous Strip together long before those storylines came to fruition. Before shooting the pilot, director James Burrows took the six main cast members on a trip to Vegas, assuring them that this was their last chance to enjoy anonymity.

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Reportedly, Burrows was so certain Friends would launch the six actors into superstardom, he lent them money for gambling. The trip proved to be a great bonding moment for the cast, who would famously huddle up, like a team getting pumped, before shooting episodes. A cherry on top of the sundae? Those Vegas-based episodes are a nod to the trip that started it all.

One Notable Side Character Got His Role by Chance

Known simply as Gunther, this salty, Rachel-loving barista from Central Perk quickly became a fan-favorite side character. Even the duck and the chick have nothing on James Michael Tyler’s blonde-haired, tie-wearing coffee connoisseur.

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However, what fans might not realize is that Tyler landed his role for a rather practical reason. According to Comedy Central, he was cast as a nameless extra, but, when the show needed someone to work the espresso machine, Tyler stepped forward. That’s right — knowing how to brew a fine cup of coffee can help you snag an iconic part.

One of the Friends Almost Didn’t Return for the Final Season

Despite making $1 million dollars per episode, breakout star Jennifer Aniston almost didn’t return for the sitcom’s final season. An international star in her own right, she was landing film roles and in the middle of her tabloid-loved marriage to superstar Brad Pitt.

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Aniston was hesitant to return for a 10th season, because she wanted Friends to go out on top. At the end of the ninth season, ratings looked good, and fans were still clamoring for the sitcom. On a personal level, she wasn’t sure she could play Rachel for much longer, which, in the end, led to a substantially shorter final season.

Phoebe’s Pregnancy Storyline Wasn’t Planned

Over the years, many sitcoms have worked around actors’ real-life pregnancies in interesting ways. Fellow ’90s sitcom Seinfeld made a habit of putting large objects in front of Julie Louis-Dreyfus’ character to conceal her baby bump. When Lisa Kudrow was pregnant, Friends took a different approach.

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Instead of hiding her behind set dressings or giving her overly large sweaters to wear, the Friends team decided to write a pregnancy storyline for Phoebe, Kudrow’s character. Since Phoebe wasn’t dating anyone seriously at the time, writers had to get creative, which led to the wild plotline of Phoebe acting as a surrogate for her brother and his wife.

NBC Didn’t Want the Hangout to be a Coffee Shop

Back when the show’s creators pitched Friends to NBC, it was kind of a gamble. Although TV shows about aimless 20-somethings living in New York — or a comparable city — are a dime a dozen now, this focus was entirely new at the time. Needless to say, execs gave creators quite a few notes.

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First, NBC execs thought the coffee shop was too “hip.” Now, in a time of hipster cafes and locally roasted coffee, that seems like a weird note to give, but NBC thought it would be more relatable if the creators traded Central Perk for a diner. Another note? NBC suggested adding a wise, advice-giving character, but, luckily, “Pat the Cop,” was nixed by the Friends creative team.

Courteney Cox Was Offered a Different Role Initially

Although diehards now can’t imagine other actors stepping into one of the iconic six roles, the Friends casting process wasn’t so cut-and-dry in the beginning. Will & Grace star Eric McCormack auditioned for Ross, even though the part was allegedly written with David Schwimmer in mind.

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Several future guest stars initially auditioned for leading roles: The Simpsons Hank Azaria tried out for Joey, Glee‘s Jane Lynch tried her hand at Phoebe and The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau auditioned for Chandler. Perhaps the strangest? Producers thought Courteney Cox would make a great Rachel, but, luckily, Cox, who was one of the most well-known actors on the show at the time, really wanted to play Monica.

One Big Element of the Series Finale Was Planned from the Start

Fans today still either bemoan or celebrate Rachel’s decision to get off the plane to Paris, thus sacrificing her dream career for Ross. However, the sitcom’s ultimate will-they-won’t-they couple ending up together was non-negotiable for the show’s co-creators, David Crane and Marta Kauffman.

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“The only thing we absolutely knew from very early on was that we had to get Ross and Rachel together,” Crane said to Entertainment Weekly. “We had [jerked] the audience around for 10 years with their ‘will they or won’t they,’ and we didn’t see any advantage in frustrating them.” To keep this under wraps, producers claimed they filmed the real ending without a studio audience. Although it was untrue, this was a smart way to keep audiences guessing.

Matt LeBlanc Badly Injured Himself on Set

Most fans will recall a third-season episode in which Joey wears a sling, something that’s explained away as an injury the character sustained while jumping on his bed. While this fits with Joey’s personality to a “T,” the injury actually had real-life origins.

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While on set, Matt LeBlanc filmed a scene that involved both him and Matthew Perry running for a comfy chair. The two ended up colliding, and, while comical, it also resulted in LeBlanc’s very real shoulder injury. When it happened, we can’t help but wonder if anyone on set asked him, “How you doin’?”

Lisa Kudrow Was Sued for Breach of Contract

Although Friends came to an end in 2004, Lisa Kudrow was still dealing with the aftermath in 2008. That year, she ended her contract with her longtime manager Scott Howard, so he sued her, claiming Kudrow still owed him residuals for Friends reruns.

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Kudrow claimed that she didn’t owe him anything — especially not the whopping 10% he was asking for — after the contract dissolved. However, the judge ended up siding with Howard in 2014, awarding him a cool $1.6 million. Of course, that’s chump change to Kudrow, who is worth about $90 million.

David Schwimmer’s Neighbors Hated Him

Even celebrities who are popular the world over have to deal with the same day-to-day troubles as us average Joes. In 2010, David Schwimmer purchased a townhouse in New York’s East Village and decided to tear down the building for a renovation.

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The townhouse had stood intact since 1852, so it wasn’t really surprising when anonymous neighbors had a bone to pick with the Friends star. The neighbor in question spray-painted “Ross Is Not Cool” in giant letters on the construction site fence. (Mature, right?) Just like his sitcom character, Schwimmer wasn’t the most popular person in the neighborhood.

And One Friend Was Arrested…

While some celebrities deal with the hard-partying lifestyle at the height of their careers, others take that route a tad earlier. Matt LeBlanc was one of those early bloomers: He was arrested twice for drunk driving, something he kept a secret until after Friends wrapped.

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“When I was young and stupid [the arrests happened],” LeBlanc confessed to the hosts of Top Gear, a show about cars. “I wasn’t driving fast, just crooked.” Luckily for LeBlanc, keeping tight-lipped about the incidents meant that the press never dug up his mugshots, which would have been some bad PR for a show that presented such a squeaky-clean version of life.

Jennifer Aniston Hated “The Rachel”

If you didn’t live through the ’90s, you’ll never understand just how popular “The Rachel” was at the time. Named after Jennifer Anniston’s iconic short, layered hairstyle, the style prompted women across the country to rush into salons, asking for the look. Despite it being popular with fans and fellow celebs alike, Aniston actually hated the cut.

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“[It] was kind of cringey for me,” Aniston admitted, later adding that it was “the ugliest haircut I’ve ever seen.” Aniston’s hairstylist, Chris McMillan, admitted that The Rachel was actually born from a mistake. McMillan confessed to taking “a bit of green” before Aniston’s appointment, which led to him accidentally buzzing her hair. Needless to say, his creative problem-solving led to an unrivaled hairstyle trend.

David Schwimmer Struggled with Fame

Of the six main cast members, David Schwimmer has always been the least likely to enjoy the limelight. In fact, he struggled with his newfound fame — and with being so associated with his character — to the point that he has shied away from on-screen roles once Friends ended.

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“It was pretty jarring, and it messed with my relationship to other people in a way that took years, I think, for me to kind of adjust to and become comfortable with,” Schwimmer admitted. “It made me want to hide under a baseball cap.” Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc found himself having a near-nervous breakdown after the show — and the failed spin-off Joey — ended, even telling his agent, “Please lose my number for a few years.”

There Was One Thing Lisa Kudrow Refused to Do…

Ten-time Emmy nominee (and one-time winner) Lisa Kudrow is a woman of many talents. However, there is one skill she refused to pick up, despite what Phoebe’s character description called for initially.

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While fans have a soft spot for Phoebe’s terrible guitar playing — “Smelly Cat,” anyone? — the writers wrote her to be a talented musician. Funnily enough, Kudrow hated playing the guitar and refused to learn in those early seasons, even after the Friends crew called in a tutor for her. “I wasn’t getting it,” Kudrow said, recalling her failed attempts to learn guitar. “I think I even asked, ‘What if she plays the bongos?'”

A Lot of Suffering Went into the Now Iconic Opening Credits

The show’s title sequence is one of its most iconic features, but when it came to shooting the montage, the actors were put through the wringer. The shoot started at four in the morning, and, by Burbank, California, standards, it was a cold morning. Exhausted, Jennifer Aniston had a difficult time grasping the concept — formal wear, umbrellas, splashing in a fountain? — but all that pain and suffering and freezing paid off.

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Not only is the title sequence amazing, but it’s nearly impossible to separate the backing song from the sitcom. When Friends‘ creators asked the Rembrandts to write a theme song, the band quickly churned out “I’ll Be There for You.” Originally, the song was just long enough for the credits, but the band had to complete a full track to stop radio DJs from cobbling together their own “full versions.”

The Cast Wanted to Reject a Now Classic Plot Line

In “The One with the Cat,” a feline friend emerges from Phoebe’s guitar case, causing the hapless musician to think that the cat in question is a reincarnation of her late mother. Sure, Phoebe has had her fair share of weird plot lines, but for the cast and writers, this one felt a little too weird.

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Allegedly, the episode made the cut because it was pitched by co-creator Marta Kauffman after the passing of her own mother. Needless to say, no one felt comfortable voicing their criticisms. When it came to another storyline, however, the cast did speak up: Most of the cast members, including Matt LeBlanc, hated the Rachel/Joey pairing and the ensuing love story.

Jennifer Aniston Didn’t Invite Her Castmates to Her Wedding

When she married Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston cordially sent wedding invitations to her Friends co-stars. However, despite still being close off-screen, the guys didn’t quite make the cut when it came to Aniston’s marriage to Justin Theroux in 2015.

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It was a small wedding — just 70 guests — so while Matthew Perry said he was surprised to have been skipped over, he was still happy for the couple. Aniston, who is the godmother of Courteney Cox’s daughter and who still keeps up a group text thread with Cox and Kudrow, did invite the women of Friends to her second wedding.

The Show Didn’t Fare Too Well at the Emmys

Despite having six top-billed actors and legions of fans, Friends didn’t fare all that well when it came to awards season. After a decade on the air — and hordes of extremely zealous fans — the show walked away with just four Emmy wins, one for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2002, one for Directing in a Comedy Series in 1996, and two for acting.

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Of the six stars, just Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow nabbed Emmys. Aniston won for Lead Actress in 2002 and Kudrow, despite having the same billing as Aniston, won for Supporting Actress in 1998. Surprisingly, the only Friends cast member to not receive an Emmy nomination was Courteney Cox. Meanwhile, only Aniston, Kudrow, and LeBlanc received Golden Globe nominations — and Aniston was the only victor, winning in 2003.

While Filming the Show, Matthew Perry Navigated Living with Addiction

Navigating newfound fame can prove difficult, but some of the Friends cast members struggled more than others. For Matthew Perry, dealing with a new way of life led to addiction. Although his addictions were kept under wraps at the time, Perry has since been pretty candid about his recovery.

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Between seasons three and six, Perry was addicted to both alcohol and pills — although the former addiction started well before the Friends fame set in. The actor noted that he was often “painfully hungover” on set, leading him to check into rehab a few times. These days, a sober Perry has dedicated his time to helping other addicts find support and navigate the recovery process. 

Co-Creators Wanted to Pair an Unlikely Couple Together…

Although Ross and Rachel ended up being the show’s central pairing, producers initially had another power couple in mind. According to co-creator Marta Kauffman, they had intended to have Monica and Joey get together because “they just seemed the most sexual of the characters.”

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Luckily, Monica ended up with Chandler — and the rest is history. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the minds behind Friends always saw Monica as a sex-positive, confident character. In the very first episode, Monica slept with someone after their first date, which NBC execs thought would turn viewers off. Thankfully, the studio audience had no problem with Monica’s decision and loved her just as she was written.

The Cast Was Afraid of One of Their Co-Stars at First

While Joey is a lovable, teddy bear-like guy, Matt LeBlanc’s castmates didn’t see him that way in the beginning. In fact, they were a little intimidated by him. Reportedly, LeBlanc’s past — a stint as a model and being raised by a rough-and-tough mechanic — made the other actors a bit wary.

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Not to mention, the only thing they knew about LeBlanc’s on-screen persona was that he was a real womanizer. “I was scared of that type of guy,” Jennifer Aniston recalled. “He thinks it’s very funny now. And, actually, he can sit down and comfort me just like Courteney or Lisa could.” 

As far as actually scary castmates go, the duck might take the cake: Lisa Kudrow was terrified of birds and hated having to share the screen with an actual duck.

An Airport Scene Was Cut After 9/11

Even on her honeymoon, Monica is the Type-A, slightly pushy character we all know and love. During the episode, she and Chandler end up competing with another couple, who seem to be just one step ahead of the Geller-Bings the whole trip. Although the storyline works well, it wasn’t the initial premise.

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In the original version, Monica and Chandler got bumped to first class, only to be pulled aside by airport security. Chandler, being Chandler, made a joke about a bomb. The episode was slated to air just two weeks after the events of 9/11, so NBC quickly called for reshoots. Later on, the original scenes were released so that fans could enjoy them.

The Cast Banded Together to Ask for Pay Raises

One of the great things about Friends? The six core characters all received equal billing throughout the run of the show. In fact, the writers initially had a pie chart taped to the wall so they could even out the number of lines and jokes for each character.

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During the first season, the actors each made $22,000 per episode, giving them equal monetary footing as well. The second season saw them being paid unevenly, which led to the six actors banding together to demand equal pay for season three. Led by David Schwimmer, the cast teamed up again to negotiate for higher final season salaries. The outcome? Each actor made a whopping $1 million per episode.

Matthew Perry Almost Went with a Different Pilot

At the time, David Schwimmer, an L.A. Law alum who had just ended a run on a short-lived show called Monty, and Courteney Cox, who was known for Family Ties and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, were the most well known of the six friends. However, it was Matthew Perry who became a hot commodity during pilot season.

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The same year Perry landed Friends, he shot the pilot for LAX 2194, a show about airport baggage handlers who worked for aliens. Hoping this intergalactic travel show wouldn’t make it, Friends showrunners took a gamble and cast Perry. Could there BE a safer bet? We think not.

Two of the Six Friends Were Almost Supporting Characters

While the cast ended up getting equal billing — and equal pay — the show wasn’t always conceived as having six starring roles. In fact, co-creator Marta Kauffman and David Crane had wanted the story to focus on four of the friends: Rachel, Ross, Monica, and Joey. (This probably explains their early, misguided desire to pair Monica with Joey.)

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That’s right — Phoebe and Chandler were meant to be supporting characters. Thankfully, things changed during the casting process, and the writers developed all six of the now-beloved “Friends” on equal footing. This is made even more perplexing when you learn that the part of Phoebe, then a supporting role, was offered to the wildly popular comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

The Iconic Frame on the Door Was an Ad Hoc Decision

The apartment that Monica inherits is iconic for so many reasons. Not only is it the dream New York apartment — there’s so much closet space! — but since so many of the Friends live there at some point and continue to drop in often, it’s chock full of memories. Purple paint aside, the most memorable feature of the apartment is that yellow picture frame hanging over the door’s peephole.

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Originally, the frame was serving its typical purpose, but someone knocked into the table it was resting on and broke the frame’s glass. Set director Greg Grande got creative and decided to use it as some door decor. There are plenty of apartment fun facts, but our favorite — and Joey’s favorite — is that the fridge actually worked and was used to store beverages and snacks for the cast and crew.

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