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Of anyone from the Friends ensemble, Jennifer Aniston has arguably gone on to have the best, and most prolific career – but in the early stages, the show almost didn’t get her in the first place. Recently, a particularly competent NBC scheduler spoke out about how he manipulated TV slots in order to secure Aniston for her iconic role as Rachel Green. Here’s what NBC schedule Preston Beckman had to say:
When we picked up Friends, Jennifer Aniston was in second position. She was on a CBS comedy, Muddling Through, and they had six episodes of it. We heard that they were putting the show on Saturday nights while we were in a current meeting. I remember Warren Littlefield turns to me and said, 'Kill it!' So I did. The first one or two weeks that it was on, I put original Danielle Steel movies against it. We wanted to make sure they weren't going to pick up more episodes just to be spiteful.
In the interview with THR, Beckman explains that it took a few simple Danielle Steel-based movies to get Aniston off of the forgettable CBS comedy and into NBC’s must-see TV lineup. The results of Beckman’s efforts left Aniston in a position to join the show that would ultimately catapult her to stardom.
This is all a testament to both Aniston’s appeal as an actress, and the tenacity of TV network executives. NBC decided they wanted Aniston, and ensured that Preston Beckman made it happen. In layman’s terms it’s all pretty cutthroat; Beckman manipulated the NBC schedule in such a way that the fledgling CBS sitcom Muddling Through never stood a chance, allowing Aniston to take on her now iconic role.
It was a bet that paid off. Rachel Green proved to be one of the show’s most popular characters, and helped the show achieve its early success; audiences in general seemed to respond remarkably well to Rachel’s status as a single girl in New York trying to make something of herself for the first time. During her tenure on Friends, Aniston received five Primetime Emmy nominations (two for supporting actress, three for lead actress) and would go on to win one of those awards at the 2002 awards ceremony. Even the hairstyle worn by Aniston as Rachel Green would go on to become a fashion icon. Suitably named “The Rachel,” it remains a staple in beauty salons to this very day.
When Friends ended in 2004, Aniston almost immediately broke into the film industry, starring in romantic comedies such as Along Came Polly, and Rumor Has It. Recently, Aniston has begun to branch out even more, taking extremely lauded roles in comedies and dramas alike – such as Horrible Bosses, and Cake, respectively.
In the end, it’s unlikely that Aniston would have had it any other way. Friends ultimately turned into a hit that would carry NBC's Thursday nights through the post-Seinfeld years, and became a cultural signifier of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Perhaps most importantly, without the tactics employed by Beckman, Ross Geller’s love life would have looked incredibly different.