Miami - Friends cocreators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, whose comedy set the template for ensemble and saw the cast band together for very-public salary negotiations, had some advice for the producers of Warner Bros. hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, which much like Friends is massively profitable in syndication and is expected to have tough negotiations ahead, to "stay out" of any and "let the studio and network do their jobs."
Before the show’s final year, Friends’ David Schwimmer famously led the fab six to stand united in each asking for $1 million per episode, a figure they ultimately received.
"Friends was a gorgeous, generous pie, and everyone had slices," Crane said during the session moderated by B&C editor-in-chief Melissa Grego during NATPE in Miami. "The only time that I think we really put our foot down was when the cast wanted story approval.”
“We had a collaborative relationship with the cast and we were clear that ‘we will listen to any pitch you have,’” said Kaufmann.
“But I think if we had earned anything, it was having approval over our own stories,” said Crane.
That bump was quickly smoothed over and removed as a negotiating point.
Said Crane: “All that money stuff, that’s what you have other people for.”
The 10-year anniversary of the series finale may be this May, but Crane and Kauffman still finish each other’s sentences like they haven’t taken a day off. They both vowed they will never do network TV again, citing the insane schedule and extreme difficulty of getting something on the air and keeping it there.
“I will never do a network show again,” said Crane, who now executive produces Showtime’s Emmy-award winning Episodes, starring Friend Matt LeBlanc, for BBC and Showtime with his partner in life and work, Jeffrey Klarik.
“That insanity of 24 episodes – it’s like throwing the tracks in front of a moving train and hoping you don’t run out of tracks.” “That production was like Indiana Jones with the ball chasing him,” agreed Kaufmann. “Television and the computer is merging. Everyone has to adjust. The sitcom has got to be reinvented if it’s going to work on network TV.”
Crane has come to prefer working so independently.
“One of the best things about doing a show on BBC, Showtime, cable … is that they are so hands off. Ultimately, no one knows what is going to work. At end of day, it’s a little bit magical. You don’t know what you are creating and how it’s going to work. I just don’t think a pile of notes from the network is ever going to make a show better.”
But, the pair did reminisce on what it was like to create and produce one of the biggest and most lucrative hits to ever grace the TV screen. Crane and Kauffman started off writing plays together after college. They were in production on one off-Broadway when they were approached by their now-longtime agent, Nancy Josephson, who asked them, “Why aren’t you guys doing television?” The thought had never crossed either of their minds, but they decided to give it a shot.
They had a few minor hits, including HBO’s Dream On, before they came up with the idea of making a show about six twenty-somethings. Friends was one of those rare shows that hit right off the bat, but Crane and Kauffman were too underwater to notice how popular their creation was becoming.
“I walked into an airport and one of them was on every other magazine,” said Kaufmann. “That was a moment we could take a breath,” said Crane. “When my rabbi asked me if Ross and Rachel were going to get together, I had a feeling it had gone beyond my little circle,” concluded Kaufmann.
But even huge hits receive guidance, in the form of notes, from the network. Asked, “what was the worst, most ridiculous note you ever received,” the answer was two-fold. First, this silly note: “We were planning an episode where it was Rachel’s birthday, and the question from the network was: ‘How will we know it’s her birthday?’” said Kauffman.
But the note that still irks the pair today came during the pilot, in which Monica, played by Courteney Cox, slept with someone on their first date and then gets dumped.
“One of the executives at the network said ‘you are doing a pilot you want everyone to fall in love with characters, and Monica sleeps with a guy on the first date,’” Crane started to explain ... “therefore she gets what she deserves,” finished Kauffman.
While that was a satisfying result for that executive, “fire was coming out of my nose,” said Kaufmann, who excused herself from the meeting. Crane, while noting Kauffman’s upset, proceeded to ignore that bias and close the deal.
Later, during the dress run-through, that executive passed out a questionnaire that included the question: “For sleeping with someone on the first date, Monica is a) a whore b) a slut c) easy.”
While die-hard Friends fans are still keeping their fingers crossed for a reunion, it's not in the cards, both creators agreed.
"There is no reunion,” said Kauffman.
"We really feel like the show is done," said Crane. "We did the show we wanted. We put a bow on it. It's done."