Throughout Friends’ colossally popular ten-season run, our central sextet rarely left their rose-tinted downtown Manhattan confines: There were sojourns to Montauk and Las Vegas, and longer treks to London and the Bahamas to get a breath of fresh narrative air, too. But according to Saul Austerlitz’s new tell-all about the sitcom, Generation Friends, the writers pitched an idea midway through the show’s run that would’ve put New York on a, uh, break in favor of a temporary new home for the entire cast. And that home would’ve been the beautiful, frigid, and lake-obsessed Minnesota.
The relocation to Minnesota developed in the writers’ room during the fifth season, thanks to a recurring desire to genuinely surprise the audience with plot developments. (Just like season four’s episode “The One With the Embryos,” where Monica and Rachel lose a bet and switch apartments with Joey and Chandler.) “The idea was that Chandler would be unexpectedly transferred to Minnesota for work,” Austerlitz writes. “Since there was no urgent reason for the characters to stay in New York, each of his friends would ultimately choose to join him there, and Friends would keep them in Minnesota for half a season.” The gang would grow to love this magical Midwestern respite from their go-go-go New York lifestyle, with “cheap apartments, friendly neighbors, and subzero temperatures.”
While the writers initially approached this Minnesota move as a joke, they soon realized the creative potential was substantial. “Everyone knew you could not relocate an iconic show to a frigid destination 1,500 miles away,” Austerlitz explains, “which was precisely why many of the writers argued they should do it.” Storyboards were brainstormed. Narrative arcs were formed to get every character to and from Minnesota. There was even talk about reshooting the opening credits sequence in a frozen fountain.
The writers, giddy with excitement at their pitch, were immediately shut down by showrunner David Crane, who said they were “out of their minds” to suggest such a thing. (Interestingly, Chandler would be transferred to a different state, Oklahoma, for work later in the series — although nobody joined him.) Friends’ fifth season would go on to primarily develop the romantic relationship between Monica and Chandler, as well as the aftermath of Ross’s second brutal divorce. Everything else was a moo point.