On September 22, 1994, a show about six twenty-something friends hanging out and drinking coffee debuted on NBC. “Friends” went on to become a cultural phenomenon and one of the most loved sitcoms of the 90s with an enduring legacy that remains to this day thanks to Netflix.
But what did the critics think about the show when it first debuted? Well, it was a bit of a mix. Most agreed that it’s time slot between “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld” could not have been more perfect for a new show. However, not everyone agreed on whether “Friends” lived up to the coveted spot.
People Magazine gave “Friends” a D+ and said the shows only saving grace was that “as the weeks go by, the characters begin to grow on you. That has more to do with the actors’ animation than it does with the rimshot writing.”
Meantime, The Detroit Free Press called it a rather pale Seinfeld wannabe with vapid generation X tendencies.
Not everyone was a hater though. The Los Angeles Times called it flat out the best new sitcom of the fall but added this prophetic comment, “the notion that all of these attractive people would remain platonic while flopping around together was a bit far fetched.”
You may remember that the pilot episode was called “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate” which of course was Rachel who had just run out on her wedding.
But another part of the pilot focused on Monica’s date with “Paul the wine guy,” who she ends up sleeping with on the same episode.
Well that almost didn’t happen. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, the shows creators David Crane and Marta Kaufman tell the story of an NBC executive who was worried about Monica sleeping with a man on her first date. Crane said the executive thought that would make her a whore (his word not mine!).
Crane and Kauffman said the executive forced them to hand out a survey to test audiences asking if the storyline was offensive or should be changed.
The skewed survey asked;
What do you think of Monica for sleeping with a man on the first date. Is she:
a – a whore
b- a slut
c – too easy
Crane says the audience responded with a resounding, WHO CARES WE LIKE HER! It took more than that to convince the executive who eventually accepted the storyline only because Monica ended up feeling hurt and humiliated after the encounter and in the exec’s view, got what she deserved.
Crane and Kauffman were livid but believed in the script and wanted to get the pilot shot without making any changes to Monica’s storyline, so they swallowed their pride and allowed the comment.
If you are a Friends fan and want more behind the scenes stories about the making of the show, check out episode #4 of History of the 90s which takes a deep dive on the iconic sitcom.