Starting in 1994 and following their lives until 2004; audiences lived through the trials and tribulations of the six twenty-somethings living in Manhattan. In a recent UK viewers’ poll, Friends was voted the top TV show out of a list of 35 contenders from the 1970s to the 1990s, winning 43% of the votes.
Even today, it’s officially the most-streamed show in the UK on Netflix, and it still attracts high viewing figures on Sky’s Comedy Central, around a quarter of a century after it was first broadcast. The recent show, Friends: The Reunion, broke Sky One ratings records in 2021, when it was watched by 5.3 million UK viewers.
Ross and Rachel
One of the long-running plots, central to Friends, was the on/off romance between two of the main characters, Rachel Green and Ross Geller, played by Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer. The characters’ relationship began when Ross had a teenage crush on Rachel and continued right through to the season ten finale.
It left viewers wondering for ten years “will they or won’t they” end up together. Fans of the show also wondered if Aniston and Schwimmer’s real-life relationship mirrored their characters’ story. However, at the show’s reunion in 2021, they disappointed fans by denying any rumours of romance, although they did admit to having a mutual crush on each other.
When Jennifer Aniston met David Schwimmer through the roles of Rachel and Ross, the two young actors were looking for their big break. Both worked in the theatre, television and films, but were far from being the household names they later became.
Los Angeles-born Aniston was 25 when she won the role of Rachel. She had been in several off-Broadway productions but had to support her acting income with jobs as a waitress, telemarketer and bike messenger. Despite regular roles in the TV series Molloy, Muddling Through and The Edge, her career had failed to take off.
New York native Schwimmer, who was 28 when Friends began, had a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre and speech. During the late 1980s, he was a struggling actor. His career picked up after he starred in the TV movie, A Deadly Silence, in 1989. He appeared in several TV roles in the early 1990s: The Wonder Years, LA Law and NYPD Blue.
Casting of Ross and Rachel
Friends’ co-creator David Crane said they “begged” Schwimmer to consider the role of Ross, as they thought he would be so right for the part, but he took some convincing. Rachel was the last of the main characters to be cast, as producers felt she would be unlikable if she wasn’t played correctly.
When Aniston auditioned, the show’s creators loved her, but she was already signed up for a new sitcom called Muddling Through, which she had started filming. She was cast as Rachel regardless and managed to work on both shows, filming episodes of Friends and Muddling Through simultaneously.
Friends aired the first episode just two weeks after Muddling Through finished. It was reported that had CBS picked up Muddling Through for another series, the role of Rachel in Friends would have been re-cast. However, Muddling Through slowly disappeared and Friends enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the ratings, so Aniston was free to carry on with the role that made her famous.
Schwimmer and Aniston met the rest of the cast for the first time around the table where they read the script for the pilot episode.
At the reunion special, Schwimmer said it “blew him away” hearing everyone for the first time, because he realised that they had been “perfectly cast”. Aniston agreed her co-stars were “the greatest group of people” and that the script was impressive.
When Friends premiered in the US on 22nd September 1994, on NBC, the first episode launched one of the most iconic on-screen couples in the history of television. Rachel flees from her wealthy, yet unfulfilling life on her wedding day to Barry Farber.
She runs into Central Perk still wearing her wedding dress, where she bumps into her childhood friend, Monica Geller. Rachel ends up moving into Monica’s apartment to start a new life.
Ross, a geeky palaeontologist, who’s incredibly insecure when it comes to women, wants to date Rachel – and so began one of television’s longest-running storylines, as their on-off relationship carries on for a decade.
Viewers are kept guessing how it will turn out until the end of the season ten finale, as Ross and Rachel have many ups and downs, including accidentally having a baby daughter together during season eight. Even this doesn’t get their relationship on a firm footing and the other Friends wonder if it will ever work out.
How did their real-life relationship blossom?
Schwimmer and Aniston had a great working relationship on set, but despite viewers (and even their co-stars) thinking there may be something going on in real life, they have denied this was ever the case.
At the cast reunion on HBO Max, both Schwimmer and Aniston said there had been a mutual attraction – describing it as “crushing hard on each other”. However, they had never acted on their feelings. Schwimmer said he’d had a “major crush on Jen” throughout the first season.
They had never done anything about it because they were “never single at the same time”. He described them as “like two ships passing” because they respected the boundary created by each being in other relationships.
Aniston has spoken of Rachel and Ross’s iconic first kiss on the sitcom during season two. Joking about their mutual attraction in real life, she had quipped to Schwimmer at the time it was “such a bummer” that their first kiss was on national television!
They had kissed in Central Perk coffee shop, with Aniston suggesting their “love and adoration for each other” was channelled into Ross and Rachel. She thought this was why the viewers loved the characters so much, as they were so believable.
The cast and crew of Friends had speculated how Aniston and Schwimmer seemed to have a crush on each other, as they were quite flirtatious on set. Kevin Bright, Friends’ executive producer, said in an interview it had been a “hot topic on set” because there was “electricity between them”.
However, the two actors quashed all rumours in 2021, when Aniston confirmed they had never dated in real life. They have remained good friends since meeting before filming began in 1994.
In October 2019, it was reported how Aniston had “broken Instagram” after posting a selfie out of the blue with Schwimmer, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc and Perry. Fans had been calling for a reunion for years and they thought it had arrived, with the photo going viral! She had captioned the image, “Hi, Instagram – now we’re Instagram Friends too.”
It turned out the gang had met socially for dinner at Cox’s home, as Aniston said in an interview with Howard Stern. She said they all had a rare “window of time”, so they decided to hang out together and “laughed so hard”. However, it took two more years before the long-anticipated reunion show was broadcast.
Today, Schwimmer and Aniston remain good friends, even though their careers have branched out in different directions. Aniston has become a respected and successful film star, with leading roles in hit movies such as Marley and Me, The Break-Up, Just Go with It, Horrible Bosses and more.
Schwimmer made his debut as a director in 2007 on the comedy Run Fatboy Run. He made his debut as a theatrical director in the Off-Broadway production, Fault Lines, in 2008. He starred in The People v OJ Simpson in 2016, receiving a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of lawyer Robert Kardashian.
While Aniston and Schwimmer have made their mark in the world of entertainment in many different ways, for Friends’ fans, they will always be Ross and Rachel.
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