Pop Culture

'Friends' ended 12 years ago, but it's still one of TV's most popular shows

Well, no one told us the "Friends" afterlife was gonna be this way!

It's been 12 years since the classic TV show went off the air, but it's a sitcom that never went on a break. Not only has it endured in endless reruns (it's now available on Netflix, in syndication and on DVD), its fans are just as fervent as ever.

And maybe even more so: While the original series had over 15 million viewers every season, the syndicated reruns draw 16 million weekly viewers!

"It's about a sort of experience that I think a lot of us associate with a pre-internet age, which is just getting in a room with a bunch of people and hanging out with them face-to-face," New York magazine critic Adam Sternbergh told TODAY.

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Matt Le Blanc (Joey), Matthew Perry (Chandler), Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courtney Cox (Monica) in a 1998 episode of "Friends."

MORE: 'Friends' cast reunites for James Burrows tribute: See the 6 best moments

For fans, including those who grew up in the more socially-isolated social media age, turning it on is a bit like inviting a bunch of, well, friends over.

One fan named Erika told TODAY, "It's like a hug." And, she added, the show makes her feel an odd nostalgia for a time she never lived in, thanks to the lack of omnipresent cell phones and computers. (Psychologists would call that feeling a "cascading reminiscence bump," but we just like to think the younger fans are discovering it's their lobster of a show.)

But it's also about the stories, and the fantasy version of New York Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, Rachel, Monica and Ross lived in. When "Watch What Happens Live!" host Andy Cohen asked Jennifer Aniston (Rachel) during NBC's "Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows" last month how her character afforded her giant city apartment, she joked, "Inherited!"

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Courtney Cox (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (Pheobe), Jennifer Aniston (Rachel) and David Schwimmer (Ross) in the "Friends" 1994 pilot.

MORE: Matthew Perry won't attend 'Friends' reunion — in person, anyway

So perhaps that's one of the reasons "Friends" endures today: It's nostalgic, it's a fantasy, but it also feels kind of real, too — like you're actually part of the gang.

"It was never an accurate portrayal of actual life, but I think for people watching it now that fantasy element has taken on an even larger appeal," said Sternbergh. "It's very emotional and people still have a very strong connection to it."

So, "Friends," how ya doin? The answer: Very well, indeed!

Follow Randee Dawn on Twitter.

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