Friends is one of the most popular sitcoms to air on NBC during the network’s must-see TV heyday. In fact, it’s one of the most popular sitcoms to ever rule the airwaves and it did so for 10 seasons between 1994 and 2004. Nowadays, it would be difficult to think about a world without Friends, but in the mid-nineties, the sitcom almost never came together. In an interview, Friends producer David Crane explained that the show didn’t test well, at all, and very well could have been nixed before it even got the chance to develop into a full-fledged TV show.
We didn't test very well. [But] it was so skewed. It basically said, 'Do you think Monica is a slut? A whore?'
Crane’s comments to the Huffington Post are a good reminder that the pilot that was created did not test well with overall audiences. The reactions to the test have been available before this, but they are pretty negative, and to give you a clear picture of what David Crane and co-creator Marta Kauffman faced, we’ve included a “lovely” little snippet from the results.
Overall reactions to this pilot were not very favorable. Interest in the show was very narrow -- best among young adults 18-34 -- but responses even among this group were just okay… But most viewers felt the show was not very entertaining, clever or original.
The document, which can be viewed on the Smoking Gun, also discusses how Monica most appealed to women in the coveted advertising demo, but even then she wasn’t testing really very high for the lead. Other detractors included the fact that the group of friends “did not come across well.” Women weren’t excited about the series overall. Younger people liked the show more than older people, but were still not particularly excited about it. It was a hot mess. And yet, David Crane said he believed in the series and was ready to fight for it all the way to airing.
This show was always the six friends. And we were prepared to live or die by that.
As it ended up, no one had to fight for Friends. The pilot moved forward, although it changed names several times, from Insomnia Café to Across The Hall and Friends like us. But then it made it to the air, and totally blew up. The show was so popular, we’re still talking about wanting a reunion more than a decade later (although the creators don't seem too keen on that idea). Many of us are also completely stoked that most—but not all—of the original Friends cast will be returning for an NBC special dedicated to director James Burrows later this month. More information on that here.