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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 02:28 GMT 03:28 UK
Parting company with Friends
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Hit sitcom Friends has come to an end in the US after 10 years on our TV screens. BBC News Online looks back at a comedy which became an international brand.


Friends started as a sitcom about six relative misfits living in New York's West Village district.

It became a global success which spawned calendars, notebooks, mugs, T-shirts, video and DVD box sets and even copycat haircuts.

Its original premise flew in the face of conventional sitcom wisdom.

Most TV comedies start with an established scenario, such as a family, or a disparate group of people who share the same location, such as a workplace.

When Friends was first broadcast in September 1994, sitcoms Roseanne and Home Improvement were the most popular on US television.

Slacker generation

Friends took a step back and showed characters whose lives were in flux - six 20-somethings who had yet to figure out where their lives would be leading.

Love thy neighbour: Friends often paired off
Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, Joey and Chandler were archetypes of the "slacker generation" - the comedy, for the most part, was based around their leisure time not their hours slaving in an office to pay for their expensive apartments and clothes.

The sitcom focused on the insecurities to grip a new generation of 20-somethings who had yet to settle down and start families or establish careers.

Chandler once remarked: "Got to get back to work, got to input those numbers, because if I don't... it doesn't make that much difference."

Monica summed up the feeling of the early episodes: "Welcome to the real world, it sucks. You're gonna love it."

Friends immediately struck a chord with many of its audience.

It tapped into a genuine, sociological trend - that for many, friends are more central to life than family - and a genuine metropolitan trend - the rise and rise of coffee house culture in the US and beyond.

The choice of six good-looking characters was also an advertiser's dream - Friends quickly became aspirational TV.

Unlike most sitcoms, Friends concentrated on the changes in the characters over time.

It was one of the first US sitcoms to show young people with real sex lives, making jokes and references that, while tame by British comedy standards, were often risque for an American network.

Classic lines

It may have lacked the quick wit of Frasier or the surreal genius of Seinfeld, but its focus on character produced a strong bond between audience and programme.

It also produced enough classic lines - "We were on a break", "How you doin'?" and "Oh - my - God!" - as well as classic episodes to ensure entry into the hall of fame, alongside Cheers or M*A*S*H.

Chandler: "Sometimes I wish I was a lesbian. Did I say that out loud?"
Rachel: "Hey, just so you know - it's not that common, it doesn't 'happen to every guy' and it is a big deal."
Joey: "I thought it'd be great, you know? have some time alone with my thoughts... turns out, I don't have as many thoughts as you'd think."
Monica: "I can't believe my Dad saw us having sex. He didn't make it to one of my piano recitals, but this he sees."
Ross: "I grew up in a house with Monica, okay. If you didn't eat fast, you didn't eat."
Phoebe: " I may play the fool at times but I'm a little more than just a pretty blonde girl with an ass that won't quit."

Over the decade the show has struggled to maintain its early energy and risk-taking - but that was always inevitable when all the combinations of pairs have been tried - with the exception of brother and sister Ross and Monica - and even they recently shared a kiss under the guise of mistaken identity.

The comedy also suffered whenever the writers introduced a seventh character to the dynamic - usually a boyfriend or girlfriend of the characters, who ended up being quickly squeezed out.

Friends has not always been great comedy but it has always been, at the very least, funny.

The series struggled particularly when the actors attempted to launch movie careers off the back of their TV success.

There were whole episodes when the actors were not available for filming together and so only four out of the six stars ever seemed to appear at one time.

Plot lines sagged in series six to eight and the dreaded "flashback" episodes emerged, in which old clips were strung together with a few filler scenes.

But like actual friends, Friends was as much about familiarity as it was about being entertained.

The BBC's Tom Brook
"Will this final episode of Friends mark the end of the TV sitcom as we know it?"

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