Friends wrapped its historic 10-year run on NBC on May 6, 2004, proving to be the final outing of TV’s most infamous and coffee-obsessed group of friends.
Launched in 1994, the series’ six main stars—Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc—were virtual unknowns. But by 2004, they were the highest-paid stars on TV about to say goodbye to their beloved characters that have become pop culture icons.
But behind the scenes of the final season, things weren’t always as cheerful and comedic as they appeared on-screen, as the cast was dealing with divorces, fertility issues and figuring out the next chapter of their lives after being part of one of TV’s most successful series of all-time, which is still just as popular and relevant as ever thanks to its after-life on Netflix.
Friends, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow,NBC
“Everybody was growing up,” Kauffman explained of Entertainment Weekly of bringing Friends to a natural end. “This is part of why the show had to end. This was no longer that time in your life when your friends are your family. You’re starting your own family.
She continued, “You don’t want them to feel like, “Thank God it’s over!” And leaving them wanting more is always a nice thing.”
But the 10th and final season of Friends almost didn’t even happen, with one star debating whether or not they wanted to return for one last coffee chat at Central Perk, while another lead was getting ready to star in their own spinoff. So get ready for the one with the behind-the-scenes of the final season of TV’s most popular comedy…
When Friends first premiered in 1994 with a cast of six unknown actors, they were each netting around $20,000 per episode. By the final season, all six of the superstars were making $1 million per episode–each. It was unprecedented, especially because the cast banded together each time to renegotiate, a practice sitcom casts like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory have adopted since.
Since the renegotiation talks were being reported on in great detail in the press, the Friends cast received some backlash for demanding such large paychecks, with Aniston once saying in an ET interview, “They gave us all a hard time and aren’t we bratty little spoiled actors to go in and do whatever it is we did.”
But just look at how much freakin’ money the show was pulling in: 30-second commercials during final season were going for $1 million, with the series finale’s coveted spots netting $2 million, the largest advertising rate for a sitcom ever.
And the series finale was watched by 52.5 million viewers, making it the fourth most-watched episode of television in history, with the retrospective special that aired before it even earning 35 million viewers.
While most seasons of the show were 22-24 episodes, the final season ran just 18 episodes.
Reports back in 2003 tried to blame the six-episode cut on Aniston wanting to start a family with then-husband Brad Pitt, with the New York Post reporting at the time that a source had told them, “Brad was really angry when she went back for another year. It’s not like they or anyone else on Friends needs the money…the rest of the cast wanted one more year and she felt a lot of pressure. But she also wants to keep Brad happy. So Jennifer said she would do one more year, but insisted on only 18 shows and that filming would be done by January.”
As you can imagine, the taping of the series finale featured a whole lot of waterworks, mostly from the cast, long before their final bow.
For Schwimmer, he was able to keep it together until their pre-show ritual huddle, saying, “I started to lose it. That was the moment I was dreading.”
In a 2018 appearance on the Scandinavian talk show Skavlan, LeBlanc admitted, “I had quit smoking and the last episode I started smoking again. It was very sad.”
The one friend who didn’t actually shed a tear? “I didn’t cry, but I felt like I was about to for like seven hours,” Perry confessed.