Kauffman and Crane: The Best of 'Friends'

It’s been almost 10 years since the 'Friends' finale, but series creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane remain as close as the show’s main character’s always were. At NATPE, the duo hilariously and powerfully covered a huge range of topics with B&C editor-in-chief Melissa Grego as part of NATPE’s Storytellers track.

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Marta Kauffman and David Crane not only created the phenomenon that is Friends, they’ve earned a long list of awards, including the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy series. They also cocreated Veronica’s Closet, The Powers That Be and the pioneering HBO series Dream On. Among the projects they’ve done separately, Kauffman executive produced Call Me Crazy: A Five Film, featuring five scripted shorts on mental illness, which followed 2011’s Five, featuring five short films focused on breast cancer. She also executive produced Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, a documentary that was on the short list for the 2008 Oscars. Crane and Jeffrey Klarik cocreated the Showtime and BBC series Episodes, starring Matt LeBlanc of Friends, as well as the CBS comedy The Class. Years later, the pair is so close, they still finish each other’s sentences.

The success that you had with Friends is truly a Holy Grail in television, for everybody involved—you as the creators, certainly with the cultural impact, the billions of dollars that it’s generated, the careers it’s launched. Incredibly popular, critically popular and people are still trying to emulate it nearly ten years after the finale aired. First, I know you two met a couple of years ago when you were in college. So did you think when you first met that there was any chance you’d create something so huge in your life?

Marta Kauffman: We were doing theater. Honestly, the way we met—we were in a play. I was a whore and he was a street urchin.

David Crane: We sort of fell into writing. I mean, it wasn’t even like we both had these dreams and plans. We were like, ‘Hey we should’—it was really, ‘Let’s write a show together and put it on!’

Kauffman: So we did.

Crane: It started by just doing plays and musicals in college and then in New York. I don’t know that we had specific, like, dreams.

Kauffman: We didn’t. We had a show off-Broadway—Nancy Josephson, who is here, who’s our agent. She’s been our agent since day one. We’ve been together since 1985. Sorry, Nance. She came to the play and said, ‘Why aren’t you guys doing television?’

Crane: And we hadn’t even thought of doing television.

Kauffman: Thank you Nancy. My family thanks you.

Crane: And so it just—at that point we didn’t want to move out of New York. So she’s like, ‘OK, well, just come up with ideas for shows and we’ll see if we can try to sell them.’ It was very, kind of, ad hoc. We didn’t in any way follow the sort of traditional move to L.A., work on somebody’s show, start as a story editor, work your way up. We really fell into it.

Kauffman: I had a baby at the time and didn’t want to work somebody else’s long hours. I knew at some point I’d have to work my own, but honestly I didn’t want to work somebody else’s long hours. And we just thought, ‘Well let’s just see what we can come up with and see if anything happens and we’re still doing theater in New York and working at law firms and whatever.’

So when did Friends come along, or as it was called initially, Insomnia Café?

Kauffman: Oh, it was called four thousand things.

Crane: Yes, Six of One—

Kauffman: Across the Hall. After we went to college, we lived in New York. We were a bunch of friends who lived—we didn’t live across the hall from each other, but we were in that place where your friends become your family. So we lived it. We came to L.A. after Dream On and we were looking for what we were going to do next. One of the things was, Dream On was about one guy. And he was in every scene and it was a lot of pressure on everybody. So we said that’s it, we’ve got to do an ensemble show next.

Crane: It was also—when we were doing it, there was no sense of ‘This is the one.’ I mean, really, we had just had a show on CBS that lasted six episodes and was canceled and it was just disastrous. And it was like, ‘All right, got to get back in the game. Let’s come up with more shows.’ And we sold the thing—

Kauffman: I just want to say, I blocked that show out completely until you said it.

Crane: There you go. And so we—it was a scramble. It was like, that sort of panicky thing of when one thing dies, will you ever be allowed to work again? We came up with two pilots that year. An absolutely terrible thing for Fox and this project for NBC that seemed like it was going well. It was flowing, and it seemed like, ‘Oh, this will be fun.’ And we did both of them that same pilot season and thank God they picked up the—the right one went and the other one didn’t.