More than 13 years after “Friends” ended, the romantic entanglements among the six Central Perk dwellers remain a favorite subject for fans — one recent debate explored whether Rachel should’ve ended up with Joey rather than Ross.
However, “Friends” co-creator David Crane disagrees with that theory.
“Ross had to end up with Rachel,” he told TODAY. “It’s ‘Friends’! If you’ve seen the pilot, that’s the show. If we had delivered anything else, I think people would have been really unsatisfied. In the eighth season where you had the Joey/Rachel storyline, part of what was great about it was that it was so wrong. They weren’t meant to be together. They loved each other; they were great friends. And it really showed a wonderful deeper side to Joey, in particular, but at the end of the day, it’s Ross and Rachel. As he says, ‘It’s you, Rach.’ That’s the show!”
So when it came time for the finale, it was important not to disappoint viewers.
“We talked about ‘Oh, Ross and Rachel don’t quite get together or maybe we imply that they will down the road,’” he said. “But you know what? People have hung in there for 10 years waiting for this moment. Give it to them. The goal was to do it in a way that you didn’t see where we were going, and it was kind of surprising, all the airport stuff.”
“I think Joey was a really good guy,” added Crane, who with partner Jeffrey Klarik created Showtime’s “Episodes,” which stars Matt LeBlanc. “It was interesting because when (Joey) was first conceived, he was a ladies’ man. But with the three women, he never hit on any of the women around him. They were his friends and he was their big brother. And his heart was always in the right place.”
Of course, Joey and Phoebe could’ve made a delightfully quirky couple, but Crane said that would’ve been too easy.
“At that point when we even considered it, Monica was with Chandler and we were like ‘Well, that’s too tidy. Stop it,’” he said.
While Ross and Rachel were meant to be from the very beginning, Chandler’s marriage to Monica wasn’t part of the original plan.
“When we were originally conceiving the show, we actually thought that Monica and Joey might become a thing and then we cast it, and just went ‘that’s not the right energy’ because now they’re faces and they’re people,” said Crane, who explained that Monica’s character was supposed to be tougher. “Janeane Garofalo was sort of a prototype.”
“Witty and sarcastic and biting,” Klarik added. “And so that was a nice idea to have that dynamic with the ladies’ man and this tough chick.”
But when LeBlanc and Courteney Cox were cast, “They both became softer and realer,” Crane said.
LeBlanc plays a satirical version of himself on “Episodes,” which ends its five-season run Oct. 8 — but showrunners Crane and Klarik say the actor is nothing like his arrogant alter-ego on the clever comedy.
"They share the same face and the same name, and that’s really the extent of it,” said Klarik. “He’s as much like Matt LeBlanc as he is like Joey. He is an actor and people lose sight of that because he’s so proficient and so good at it that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.”
“For all those years, people thought Matt’s really like Joey and he’s nothing like Joey,” Crane said. “And now on our show where he’s playing this totally horrendous version of himself, they go, ‘That’s what he’s really like.' And he’s just a really good actor.”
However, there is one similarity between the real LeBlanc and Joey Tribbiani.
“Women are crazy about him,” Klarik pointed out. “I mean he really has to hit them off with a … we’ll be driving in London and cars will pull up to our car and there are dark windows. But somehow people sense his presence. And the window will come down and they’ll go ‘Hey Joey! How you doin'?’ And he’s always so gracious — the best acting I think he does is when he acts kind of surprised and smiles for selfies and stuff.”
The pair said LeBlanc has been good-natured about the show’s premise from the start.
“We laid out the concept, which is that there are these two British writers who come over here and they have a lead British actor who’s this elegant, erudite, Royal Shakespeare kind of actor and the American network insists that they fire that guy and hire Matt,” said Crane. “When we pitched it, we were a little nervous.”
“He said ‘So, wait, I’m the punchline?’” said Klarik. “And we said yes. And he said ‘As long as it’s a funny punchline, I’m OK with it.’ And he’s been that way ever since. He comes to the set prepared. He’s so low-key and magnanimous. He wants everybody to feel like they belong and they’re equal and there’s no star stuff. He’s pretty impressive.”
Much like “Friends,” “Episodes” nimbly balances humor with more poignant moments.
“One of the things I love about ‘Episodes’ is that it’s got a huge heart and you can have a really funny scene that has an emotional ending to it and vice versa,” said Crane. “You can have a really dramatic scene and then we undercut it with something really funny.”
The "Episodes" finale airs Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime.