The tenth and final season of "Friends" may have ended in 2004, but the massively popular sitcom never lost its grip on people’s imagination. The show continues to air on television and streaming sites all over the world, allowing new generations of fans to discover and identify with the world of "Friends."
As with any series that reaches such stratospheric realms of success, the final season of "Friends" had a great many expectations riding on it. Long-standing plotlines had to be resolved, characters arcs had to come to a satisfying conclusion, and new ideas had to be introduced that could be wrapped up within the season.
Making the final season of "Friends" was an arduous task for everyone involved in its production, from the show’s creators — David Crane and Marta Kauffman — to the main cast consisting of Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. Since the series finale, "The Last One," aired in 2004, various interviews with the cast and crew have shed some light on filming that final season, and here’s what it was like behind the scenes as "Friends" came to an end.
Friends’ creators were ready for the tenth season to be the last
When a show is as successful as "Friends," you might think the people making it would want to milk the franchise for as long as possible. But "Friends" co-creator David Crane has stated that they originally intended to finish the series after Season 7.Then the end date kept getting pushed back, with Crane explaining to Entertainment Weekly, "It seemed as though, ‘Oh, Season 7 is the last season or season 8. Or season 9.’ So each of those seasons we had an eye toward, ‘Okay, if this is the last year, what are we doing?’ And then, amazingly, there was a rising from the ashes, last minute: ‘Oh my god, there is one more season…’
And so "Friends" made it past the seventh season. And then the eighth season. And then the ninth. Finally, as the tenth season loomed on the horizon, Crane revealed that both the producers and the main cast were determined to bring the show to a close once and for all.
"Season 10, we said, ‘We can’t keep stopping and starting and rethinking everything,’" Crane explained. "And that also jived with what some of the cast was thinking." And so the entire cast and crew of "Friends" went into the tenth season knowing full well this was going to be the final one. This air of finality hung over the production of the entire season.
Courteney Cox was dealing with a pregnancy
Keen-eyed "Friend" fans might’ve noticed Monica, played by Courteney Cox, wearing a lot more loose clothes and layered dresses near the end of the final season. That’s because Courteney Cox had become pregnant with her then-husband David Arquette’s first child at the time. Cox’s daughter, Coco, was born a month after the series finale aired.
As far as any difficulties with managing the pregnancy on set are concerned, according to Cox, her condition only helped her get more into character. The actress’ personal journey mirrored Monica’s arc in the final season, where Monica and Chandler are desperate to find a way to have children, and they meet a single mother named Erica (Anna Faris) who lets them adopt her child. The series finale had Erica giving birth to not one but two children, finally fulfilling Monica’s deep-rooted desire to become a mom.
In an interview, Cox explained that she felt her own pregnancy made her empathize more deeply with what Monica was going through in the final season, telling People, "You can’t help that I’ve become Monica a little, and Monica has become me a little. I think we’ll both be pretty damn good moms."
‘Ross and Rachel’ was the big elephant in the room
From the beginning of the series, "Friends" fans had one big question — when when will Ross and Rachel finally get together for good? Despite later seasons showing the two characters moving on with new romances and even a few serious relationships, by the end, it’d become acutely clear that those two were supposed to be together.
And so, a major mandate for the final season was that it would finally take the "will they, won’t they?" aspect of Ross and Rachel’s relationship out of the equation. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, David Crane admitted, "We did talk about, with Ross and Rachel, a gray area of where they aren’t together, but we hint there’s a sense that they might be down the road. But we thought, ‘No, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.’"
There are those who might say that Ross ending up with Rachel was a bit too predictable, and it might’ve been more interesting to leave things in the "gray area" regarding their romance. But Crane disagrees, adding, "It’s not a show about grays. Let’s deliver not just what the audience wants, but what we want, which was to see them finally together."
Not everyone was thrilled about the cast’s giant paychecks
By the time the final season rolled around, the main actors on "Friends" made up the highest-paid cast in the history of television (up until then), each netting a $1 million per episode. What made the whole thing even more remarkable was that the usual practice at the time was for individual actors to ask for pay raises in private, leading to significant differences in how much each cast member got paid.
Instead, all six main cast members negotiated their salaries as a group and insisted they all get paid the same amount. Unfortunately, not everyone was happy to see the cast earn so much money, with series co-creator Marta Kauffman once commenting during a Television Critics’ Association press conference, "$1 million dollars an episode is kinda ridiculous. I think it’s inflated. And there’s something unrealistic about it."
Despite the criticism from some directions, the cast stuck to their demands. In later years, Matt LeBlanc, who played Joey Tribbiani, justified their salary hike based on the overwhelming popularity of the main cast. "We were in a position to get it," he explained to HuffPost Live. "If you’re in a position to get a raise and you don’t get it, you’re stupid. You know what I mean? We were in a position and we were able to pull it off. ‘Worth it’ has nothing to do with it."
Friends looked to other shows for inspiration
The writers of "Friends" were fully aware of the massive expectations that fans had for the series finale. So, before they even started working on it, the writers looked to other shows that had pulled off successful final episodes for inspiration.
"We watched a bunch of finales", co-creator Marta Kauffman revealed (via The Baltimore Sun). "The ones we really liked are the ones that seemed to stay true to what the series was. ‘Bob Newhart,’ ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ those worked well." Co-creator David Crane agreed, citing the end of "Mary Tyler Moore" as the gold standard for sitcom finales, adding, "We knew it had to be something where you felt something and where hopefully you laughed a lot. And we were invested in the characters. I think there’s some shows you’re not invested in the characters. That’s not what the show is about."
The entire last season of "Friends" managed to hold true to Crane’s dictum of staying invested in the characters. Instead of trying to go out with a big bang, the series ended on a quiet, reflective note, as the iconic group of friends said goodbye to Monica’s apartment, wordlessly acknowledging that their carefree days of being single were coming to a close and that it was time to move on to the next part of their grown-up lives.
Filming the final season was a highly emotional affair
Naturally, filming Season 10 of "Friends" while knowing it was the last one made the whole thing a highly emotional affair. At the time of filming, Jennifer Aniston opined to television critics (via Today) that she and the rest of the cast were "like very delicate china right now," adding, "We’re speeding toward a brick wall … and inevitable pain."
Aniston’s feelings were shared by the others of the main cast, with Lisa Kudrow admitting that the end of the show was "a deeper loss than [she] was expecting." Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc spoke about the significance of leaving behind a part of his career that had consumed "a third of [his] life." David Schwimmer expressed gratitude for the fact that the main cast "really liked each other from the beginning," saying, "We were very lucky."
Perhaps the characters that were leaving on the best note were Monica and Chandler, who in the last season adopted twin newborns and moved into the house of their dreams. For Matthew Perry, who played Chandler, there was a sense that "Friends" would be a tough act for other shows to follow. Meanwhile Courteney Cox, who was preparing for her pregnancy, felt the timing was good for her because, as she put it, "I’ll have something to put my focus on."
Heading in new directions
While the main cast was dealing with the loss of the show, they were also keeping an eye on the future. As such, during the final season, all six cast members were taking the first steps into branching out, with varying degrees of success. The one who tried to stay as close to home as possible was Matt Le Blanc, who’d already signed on for the spinoff show "Joey," in which Joey Tribbiani moves to L.A. and cultivates new friends.
The show was taken off the air after two seasons, but LeBlanc bounced back with other hit shows including "Man with a Plan" and "Episodes." Courteney Cox eventually found herself leading another hit series, "Cougar Town." Jennifer Aniston was finally able to turn her attention properly to films, with a string of projects including "Marley and Me", "Just Go with It," and "Along Came Polly." David Schwimmer found a lucrative voice role in the "Madagascar" franchise, along with acting and directing on stage.
Matthew Perry branched out into directing by helming an episode of the fourth season of "Scrubs," and he continued to appear in a series of film and television projects before co-creating and starring in the ABC sitcom "Mr. Sunshine." Finally, Lisa Kudrow’s first role after "Friends" was as Valerie Cherish on HBO’s "The Comeback," before playing in projects like "Scandal," "BoJack Horseman," and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
Trying to find the right words
The biggest strength of "Friends" had always been its strong writing, which managed to make the characters and situations hilarious without the whole thing descending into cartoonish hijinks. And with the finale, the pressure on the writing staff was greater than ever.
The staff itself was deeply conscious of this responsibility. According to an interview with co-creator Marta Kaufman for SFGate, when it was time to write the ending of Season 10, the writers were stumped for a long time. The pressure while writing the final scene of the series was so intense that the writers thought about it for several days without being able to pen a single word.
Fortunately, the team managed not to buckle under the pressure and stuck to their original objective to keep the finale focused on the characters instead of adding any new, flashy stuff for the sake of going out with a bang. The approach worked, giving us two of the best episodes of "Friends."
A new chapter for the Friends gang
Once you get past the production details and the cultural legacy of "Friends," what fans ultimately cared about was making sure that Ross, Rachel, and the rest of the gang would bid their goodbyes on a high note, with confidence in their future and the hope that everything was going to be all right in the end.
This is a sentiment that David Schwimmer felt the series finale had managed to convey. The actor spoke about his personal feelings regarding the finale, opining to SFGate, "It’s exactly what I had hoped. We all end up with a sense of a new beginning and the audience has a sense that it’s a new chapter in the lives of all these characters."
The end of "Friends" saw the main six characters go off into different directions, with Joey heading to L.A. to become a star, Monica and Chandler moving to the suburbs to raise their children, Phoebe starting her own family with her husband, and Ross and Rachel finally ready to devote their lives to each other. Even though there was a sense that the old bonds of friendship had changed in this new chapter of their lives, there was also a feeling that the next chapter was going to be just as fulfilling as what had come before.
Shooting the Friends finale was really intense
At long last, the cast and crew got together to film the very last episode of "Friends" — the two-parter titled "The Last One." Naturally, emotions were running high, and the actors had a tough time keeping it together long enough to finish their scenes.
Due to the nature of the scenes, makeup took much longer than usual. During the cast’s group interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston explained, "I don’t think we’ve ever taken more time in hair and makeup in between scenes. Also, the fact that we kept crying all our makeup off, over and over again." Others had their own way of dealing with their emotions. Matthew Perry took a leaf out the emotionally stunted Chandler’s book and managed not to shed any tears, although the actor admitted, "I didn’t cry, but I felt like I was about to for like seven hours."
Meanwhile, Matt LeBlanc revealed during an appearance on the Norwegian-Swedish television show, "Skavlan," that he was experiencing so much stress during filming that it drove him to start smoking again, a habit he’d managed to kick for some time. Somehow, the cast was able to get through the scenes, but the tears didn’t stop there, as Aniston admitted there were "instant hysterics" when the six main actors walked out together in front of the audience for a standing ovation.
The one storyline that everyone hated
As emotional as the final season was for the cast of "Friends," not everything about the last season was considered a home run. There was one particular storyline that was met with a lot of resistance — Joey’s unexpected romance with Rachel, which was carried over from Season 9 into Season 10.
According to the show’s executive producer and director Kevin S. Bright, Matt LeBlanc had a big problem with having Joey try to move in on his best friend’s girl. "I can tell you this –- in the beginning, Matt LeBlanc did not want to do that story," Bright explained to Digital Spy. "He was very firmly against it, saying that he’s Ross’ friend, and that the type of friend that Joey is would never go and take someone else’s girlfriend."
What makes LeBlanc’s attitude even more understandable is that earlier seasons had featured a storyline where Chandler fell in love with Kathy, a girl Joey was dating, and the latter was extremely hurt upon finding out his best friend had betrayed him like that. Fortunately, the Joey/Rachel romance didn’t survive past the third episode of Season 10, and the two decided to simply remain good friends.
We saw the return of familiar faces
While the main cast members were the center of attention, the world of "Friends" was populated by many beloved recurring characters. Even though the finale didn’t feature any prominent returning faces, quite a few guest actors from other episodes dropped by to watch the filming of the historic, two-part finale.
First up was Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice, Chandler’s most prominent love interest until he realized Monica had been the one for him all along. Although she wasn’t part of the action, Wheeler noted the distraught state of the main cast while filming, commenting to Digital Spy, " I was there for the last episode — I watched it being filmed, and I was part of that experience, and it was so emotional to have the show come to an end. We all cried!""
Also present was David Arquette, who was not only married to Courteney Cox at the time but had also played the role of one of Phoebe’s brief flings in the early seasons. Although Phoebe ended up with Mike Hannigan (Paul Rudd), another one of her past paramours was present at the taping of the finale — David the Scientist Guy, in the shape of actor Hank Azaria.
A party like no other
Once the tears had been shed, the scenes had been completed, and the cameras stopped rolling on the final season of "Friends," it was time for the farewell party. And from all accounts, it was a party like no other. After the finale was completed, the cast and crew joined 1,000 other guests at the Park Plaza Hotel for a night of celebration and remembrances.
Special guest stars included Sheryl Crow, as well as the Rembrandts, who were soon belting out their iconic "Friends" theme song, "I’ll Be There for You." There were cocktails flowing freely that’d been named after the show’s most iconic monikers, from "Smelly Cat" to "Ugly Naked Guy".
For a special treat that no one was expecting, the main cast members reenacted the first scene from the pilot episode for a special trip down memory lane. Sounds like the kind of party that fans would’ve loved to have been a part of.