While we were busy mourning Friends’ impending departure from Netflix, a fun anniversary sneaked up behind us, unagi style, to simultaneously cheer us up and make us contemplate our mortality: the show’s 25th anniversary. To celebrate the milestone, Vulture combed through Saul Austerlitz’s new tell-all book, Generation Friends, to discover some tidbits about the Central Perk sextet that have remained pretty elusive since 1994, as well as behind-the-scenes gossip and alternate-universe moments that could’ve altered the show’s DNA as we know it. There’s still no talk about a reunion (duh), so here’s a baker’s dozen of fun facts to tide us over instead.
1. NBC was mostly hands-off after ordering Friends’ pilot, but it was insistent on one major suggestion: the addition of an older secondary character who could run into the six pals at the coffeehouse and give them “advice about their lives.” Showrunners David Crane and Marta Kauffman, while not thrilled about this tweak, made a good-faith attempt to incorporate the new character into the show, and Pat the Cop — an older NYPD officer who frequented Central Perk — was born. An actor was even cast in the role, but Crane and Kauffman hated the resulting script so much that they “pleaded with NBC to drop the idea.” The network eventually relented, and Pat the Cop was permanently scrubbed.
2. When writing the pilot, Crane and Kauffman initially envisioned Joey (then conceived as a Chicago city slicker) and Monica as the show’s central romantic couple, as opposed to Ross and Rachel. It would’ve unfolded like this: Joey, a “perpetual horndog,” would’ve eventually been lured and “tamed” by Monica as he continued to climb up in the world of acting. Crane, however, found himself “bored” by this version of Joey; he retooled Joey to be a funnier and warmer character within the friend group, and dropped the romance with Monica altogether.
3. Before Friends settled on the now-iconic theme song “I’ll Be There for You” by the Rembrandts, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was approached numerous times to record a theme, but he politely declined every offer. In fact, R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” served as the original pilot theme, but the Rembrandts’s ditty was ultimately deemed more suitable.
4. Anita Barone, who was originally cast as Ross’s ex-wife, Carol — and appeared in one episode of the show — demanded her role to be larger. Barone’s behavior got her quickly replaced with Jane Sibbett.
5. Crane tried to stop season five’s “The One Where Rachel Smokes” from airing, due to an exceedingly poor run-through with all of the plotlines (which included Rachel taking up smoking to impress her new boss at Ralph Lauren, and Ross’s son and Joey auditioning for the same commercial). The network refused, and the episode aired in the shape it was in. Crane considers it to be the show’s weakest episode.
6. Crane’s other biggest Friends regret was encouraging the cast to do multiple commercials for Diet Coke after the massive success of the first season. The commercials — which were crafted by the show’s writers and involved the characters being interrogated by police about a missing Diet Coke — were brought on by an enormous payday, but Crane later argued that it “put the show at risk” for commercialization.
7. While it happened infrequently, the six main actors were allowed to nix plotlines that they didn’t like or “couldn’t stomach” for their characters. For instance, Matthew Perry said no to a story where Chandler would sneak into a gay bar because he loved the chef’s tuna melts.
8. Friends was keen on recruiting Owen Wilson as a guest star (the role wasn’t specified), but owing to a subsequent interview Wilson did where he admitted that his “biggest fault was giving writers a hard time,” the offer was revoked to avoid unnecessary drama.
9. The writers’ room was consistently divided over the character of Paolo, who had a purely sexual relationship with Rachel throughout Friends’ first season. Some of the writers believed “the Latin lover” was a tired trope, while others believed it was fun and realistic. Before he was written as an Italian Lothario, though, there were serious discussions about giving Paolo an Inuit background. “The prospect of a stud in mukluks,” apparently, “was ultimately deemed to be a bridge too far for audiences.”
10. Although guest stars rarely caused trouble for the show, Jon Favreau, who portrayed Monica’s tech-billionaire boyfriend Pete in a season-three arc, was annoyed at how the writers crafted his character as a “sweet but geeky overgrown kid.” (Favreau also auditioned for the role of Chandler years prior.) He began to push back at these nerd-chic aspects, and demanded that the writers make him “cooler” than they originally intended. Because of Favreau’s persistence, the writers ended up incorporating a plotline about Pete wanting to become an ultimate fighting champion.
11. Charlie Sheen, years before his bizarre public downfall, had a memorable guest-star role as Phoebe’s Navy sailor boyfriend who willingly gets the chicken pox from her in an act of love. Sheen was so terrified to be on Friends that the episode’s director had to pause one of his scenes due to Sheen’s legs shaking uncontrollably. His brother, Emilio Estevez, also had to be taken out of the audience to calm him down, “rub his back,” and encourage him to return to the stage.
12. Chris Isaak appeared in the coveted post–Super Bowl episode alongside Julia Roberts in season two, with the show believing they secured massive star power by casting Isaak as a musician love interest for Phoebe. However, when he was instructed to pause for a roar of excitement from the audience upon his first scene, he was met with dead silence — they had no idea who he was. The showrunners, to this day, consider Isaak to be the biggest casting “miscalculation.”
13. The show took a notable season-four trip to London, where they filmed in front of a live British studio audience as well as exterior shots around Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. The visit might not have happened, though, without the cunning generosity of Richard Branson: He agreed to provide nearly 100 first-class tickets for the cast and crew on his Virgin Atlantic airline, but only if Friends gave him a small role. The showrunners agreed to his terms, and the writers were able to cast him as a souvenir salesman who cajoles Joey into buying a silly hat. Branson’s poor acting abilities ended up becoming one of the biggest challenges of the London shoot, as he couldn’t “credibly” deliver his lines without help.