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America says goodbye to long-time 'Friends'

After 10-season run, curtain poised to fall on hit show
/ Source: Reuters

Have you seen the one with the monkey? The one where Ross and Rachel take a break? Or the one where Joey moves out?

If all this means anything to you, you’ve probably watched the show that started out as “Six of One” and later called itself “Insomnia Cafe” and “Across the Hall” before settling on the title Americans, and millions of others around the globe, have come to know and love over the last decade — “Friends.”

Since its Sept. 22, 1994, debut, “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate” (every episode title starts “The One”), Friends has ranked consistently among the top 10 shows on U.S. television, becoming an integral element of pop culture in the process.

But now, after 236 episodes, the show about six friends who share space in one another’s apartments and meet for coffee at "Central Perk,” a mythical Manhattan cafe, will conclude its 10-season run with a one-hour retrospective and one-hour final episode on May 6.

“It’s clearly going to be remembered as one of the great sitcoms of all time,” said Bruce Fretts, a senior correspondent at TV Guide magazine. “The stars all aligned on this show. The perfect cast, the perfect time slot, the perfect time in our culture to have a show about friends as our family.”

Be it Jennifer Aniston’s hairdo — which became known simply as the “Rachel” adorning heads in many countries — or Matt LeBlanc’s much-imitated pickup line “How you doin,”’ as Joey, the show became part of the national psyche.

Linchpin of scheduleMore than that, though, it became a linchpin of NBC’s schedule and enriched its stars — Aniston (Rachel), Courteney Cox Arquette (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), LeBlanc (Joey), Matthew Perry (Chandler) and David Schwimmer (Ross).

For creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, the final show was in some ways as much for them as for the viewers.

“We didn’t want people to be disappointed of course, but we’re pretty tough on ourselves, so I think mainly what we wanted to do was make ourselves happy,” Kauffman said on a recent conference call with reporters.

“It’s somewhere between getting a divorce from someone you’re still in love with and losing someone,” she said.

So is there a favorite “friend?” Online dating site Yahoo Personals did a survey of 1,200 singles and found 65 percent of single women would choose Chandler to marry, and 46 percent of single men would choose him as their best friend.

That survey also found that more than 75 percent of people want Ross and Rachel to end up together, while 53 percent wished they had a group of friends like those on the show.

Though NBC has done its fair share to promote the finale, it has not yet fostered the same kind of hype as six years ago, when the end of “Seinfeld” became such a national obsession that a small backlash ensued and led the New York Times to declare “Goodbye Already.”

Fretts said the “Friends” send-off will be lower key than that of “Seinfeld,” which featured a host of guest stars and ended up with the main characters being sentenced to prison.

“I think the writers of 'Friends’ learned a lesson from the finale of 'Seinfeld,”’ he said. “They went too big and too high concept ... it felt like something different and strange and not particularly funny.”

The producers also worried about overstaying their welcome, a common fault of successful TV shows that try to eke too many seasons from a successful formula.

“We were nervous enough about this (10th season), and it paid off,” Crane said.

Passing in styleNonetheless, those who love the show intend to mark its passing in style.

WIS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Columbia, South Carolina, is planning an invitation-only party the night of the finale at a downtown coffee shop, mirroring the “Central Perk” cafe.

WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will also have a party, with tickets available only to winner of a local radio station’s “Friends” trivia contest. And NBC4 in Columbus, Ohio, is holding a “Friends” look-alike contest whose winners will get tickets to a viewing event.

The show won’t go away completely, though. In July, NBC and Warner Bros. Television signed a deal with LeBlanc for a spin-off featuring his character, entitled “Joey.” The pilot for that show was taped in late April, and all of his old "friends” are expected to pop in as the seasons roll by.

“Joey” will hope to emulate the success of “Frasier,” an NBC comedy that took a character from the long-running hit "Cheers” and spun him off into a new show also going off the air this year after 11 seasons.

“I think it’s all going to depend on the execution.” TV Guide’s Fretts said. “They’re clearly sticking as close to the 'Frasier’ model as they can.”