It’s about the six of them

Jun 3, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Coming off “a hell of a ride” in the eighth season, “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman insists there was no specific game plan for spiking the NBC series’ popularity. “Honestly, we always try to do the best job we can. This year the series had an engine that got people excited. We took a funny risk and it paid off both for the fans and for us creatively. It was an extraordinary year,” she said.
Luck and perseverance seemed to go hand in hand during the past 22 episodes, bringing renewed vigor to the “Friends” cast and crew. Ms. Kauffman and fellow executive producers David Crane and Kevin Bright of Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions have been credited with the series’ longevity, having continued to work very closely with the show through each and every season.
But this season, which some critics consider the series’ best, the sitcom’s writers and producers injected more dramatic story elements, and audiences responded in droves. With 35 million viewers tuning in for the season finale on May 16, “Friends,” finished the season as television’s most popular series for the first time.
Ms. Kauffman and her colleagues were right in assuming viewers would be interested in a story line about a pregnant Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). The risk was in having Joey (Matt LeBlanc) declare his affection for Rachel, especially given that she is having a child by David Schwimmer’s character, Ross.
“It was so interesting because people were really divided in where we should go. There were some who believed that Joey had grown up enough that he might deserve Rachel. The audience was truly split, and that was exciting creatively and made for good drama.”
The presence of an infant has not always had a positive effect on sitcoms (“Mad About You” being the best example). But as Ms. Kauffman embarks on the ninth and final season of “Friends,” she says Rachel’s baby will not become the show’s focus. While the child will change the dynamic among the various cast members, “I don’t know how much the baby will literally be a character. I don’t look on it as a seventh `Friend.”’
Still, after the glories of the past season, she admits, “The bar has been set very high.” No firm decisions have been made about the trajectory of the final season. Will Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox) also journey into parenthood? Will Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) figure more prominently in the story lines than she did last season? And is marriage in the offing for Rachel-with either Joey or Ross?
Ms. Kauffman would not offer clues to what will happen with the characters next season, but she is confident that the dynamic between the writers and the cast is so finely tuned that the humor should flow as effortlessly as it has in years past. “It’s a truly collaborative process. There is a great deal of affection between us,” she said. “Besides, we’re joke whores. We’ll take them from anywhere. Above and beyond that, the cast and the writers are really smart. We all listen to find out what’s working and what isn’t. We’re big believers in rewriting.”
About the coming year’s grand finale for “Friends,” Ms. Kauffman is even more vague. While she is hesitant to speak for series distributor Warner Bros. or the show’s producers, she has no interest in any spinoff possibilities. New sitcoms featuring the characters of Joey or Phoebe have been grist for the rumor mill lately.
“The show is about the six of them. And that’s how it’s always worked best. I don’t know how much sense [a spinoff] would make. I would think it would be tough to do. And personally, I wouldn’t want to,” she said.
She admits that after eight years, “We can’t imagine life without `Friends,’ and we try not to go there too often.”