DOCUMENT: Celebrity

"Friends" Hits 20, But Almost Was Killed In Crib

Test audiences thought show was not very entertaining

Friends cast

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Friends Anniversary

SEPTEMBER 22--As the world pauses today to mark the 20th anniversary of the premier of “Friends,” an internal NBC research report shows that test audiences gave the sitcom’s pilot a woefully bad grade, dismissed the program as "not very entertaining, clever, or original," and thought none of the show’s characters “were especially likable.”

The May 1994 report--prepared four months before the comedy debuted--described the “Friends” sitcom as “weak,” and gave the show a score of 41 (out of 100). Overall reactions to the pilot “were not very favorable” and some audience members “felt this group did not really care about each other the way real friends would.”

Additionally, adults over 35 “found the characters smug, superficial, and self-absorbed” and “The coffee house setting was confusing to viewers especially at the beginning of the show.”

TSG first published the confidential NBC report alongside this May 2004 story.

Of the program’s main characters, Monica (Courteney Cox) got the best marks from the test audiences, though her appeal was “well below desirable levels for a lead.”  Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) had “maginal appeal,” while Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Ross (David Schwimmer), and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) “scored even lower, and the little appeal they did have came primarily from women.”

Faced with the pilot’s poor reception, network researchers made seven recommendations for saving the show, including improving the “relationships and warmth among the characters” and “Don’t overdo sexual situations, at least early in the show’s run. It will work against broadening the audience base.”

Despite its original failing grade, “Friends” went on to become a decade-long ratings juggernaut for NBC, where the show anchored the network’s Thursday night lineup. However, by the time the show went off the air in 2004, many viewers still found the six lead characters “smug, superficial, and self-absorbed.” (4 pages)