| The cast of Friends: (clockwise from left) Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Courteney Cox Arquette as Monica Geller Bing, Matt Le Blanc as Joey Tribbiani and Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green. (Reuters)
Los Angeles, May 7 (Reuters): Friends, the smash hit US sitcom about six winsome young pals who became like family to each other and millions of television viewers, ended its 10-year NBC run with an emotional farewell that finally left Ross in Rachel’s arms for good.
The highly promoted hour-long finale capped weeks of media hype surrounding what became the most anticipated US television event since Seinfeld left the General Electric Co.-owned network in 1998.
At the show’s end, Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, decides at the 11th hour to stay in New York with Ross, David Schwimmer’s character, rather than fly to Paris, binding the star-crossed lovers together at last as the curtain came down on American television’s top-rated comedy.
Her change of heart comes after a comically frantic race to the airport, where Ross desperately begs her to stay, only for Rachel to rebuff him and board the plane.
An anguished Ross goes home to find a confessional message on his answering machine from Rachel, who unexpectedly appears in his doorway to announce, “I got off the plane.” The two kiss, embrace and pledge never to leave each other again.
The off-and-on romance between Rachel and Ross had remained one of the show’s underpinnings since the start and rivalled some of the most stori- ed love affairs in prime-time history, ranking with Sam and Diane from Cheers and George Clooney and Julianna Margulies on ER.
Tying up another loose thread, the surrogate mother for the show’s other central couple, Monica and Chandler (who wed at the start of season eight), surprised the expectant adopting parents by giving birth to twins — a boy and a girl.
Ironically, Courteney Cox Arquette, who plays Monica, is expecting a real-life baby of her own in the near future.
The finale concludes with moving men clearing out Monica’s apartment as she and Chandler get ready to head for their new house in the suburbs.
The six friends share another round of hugs, then each solemnly leaves his or her key on the kitchen counter, departing together for one last cup of coffee.
The final episode, expected to draw some 40-50 million viewers, commanded sold-out, Super Bowl-sized advertising rates averaging $2 million for each 30-second commercial, a sitcom record.
Debuting in 1994, the breezy comedy about six attractive 20-somethings living together in Manhattan, unfettered by mortgages or kids, became an instant hit.
The coffee-gulping brood consisted of resident den mother Monica (Cox Arquette), wise-cracking husband Chandler (Matthew Perry), Monica’s geeky kid brother Ross (Schwimmer), pampered former rich girl Rachel (Aniston), ditsy new age Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and dopey but lovable actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc).
While critics lauded the series for its consistently sharp writing, a key ingredient was the chemistry among the six principals, who became nearly as close off screen as on and bargained together for higher salaries as the series grew in popularity and commercial value.
Appearing with his five cast-mates on a special segment of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno after the finale, Schwimmer was credited with hatching the idea of negotiating as a team.
“We were doing the same amount of work... and there were six leads,” he recalled. “So it just made sense that we would all show up and make the same amount of money. It didn’t necessarily, at the time, matter what it was, just that we were paid equally so there was no resentment down the line.”
During the course of the show, Friends cast members saw their pay climb to $1 million each per episode. But no one ever questioned that the cast earned its keep.
When the series was renewed for a 10th season, NBC agreed to pay production company Warner Bros. Television a licence fee of $10 million per episode in a deal that made Friends the most costly prime-time series ever.
Besides making household names of its six stars, Friends left a considerable imprint on the pop culture as legions of fans imitated catch phrases, fashion trends and hairstyles popularised by the show, especially Rachel’s hairdos.
The show also was known for the parade of Hollywood stars who made guest appearances, including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Aniston’s real-life husband Brad Pitt and Arquette’s off-screen hubby, David Arquette.
LeBlanc will be back in the fall as the star of his own spinoff, Joey.