Friends nearly lost Jennifer Aniston after the first season

1999 Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, And Lisa Kudrow Star In The Latest Season Of 'Friends.' (Photo By Getty Images)
1999 Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, And Lisa Kudrow Star In The Latest Season Of 'Friends.' (Photo By Getty Images) /

Friends could have been down to five in New York City instead of all six. It turns out Jennifer Aniston almost had to leave the show and here’s why.

Friends is one of the most popular and longest-running sitcoms in the world. However, it likely wouldn’t have been as successful if just one of the six left the show. That was something that nearly happened after the first season when Jennifer Aniston could have had to walk away.

During the first season of Friends, Aniston had also worked on a CBS sitcom called Muddling Through, according to Saul Austerlitz, a pop culture historian. He shares more in his book titled “Generation Friends,” but the excerpt about Aniston has been shared by Entertainment Weekly.

The CBS sitcom ran between July and September 1994. Only 10 episodes aired and it wasn’t picked up for a second season. If it had, Aniston would have had to leave Friends for Muddling Through, and it would have happened partway through the first season.

NBC wasn’t willing to lose out on Aniston as Rachel Green. To avoid trouble with Muddling Through, the NBC boss at the time, Warren Littlefield asked his scheduled guru Preston Beckman to do something to help.

The decision? Run adaptations of Danielle Steel books at the same time as the threat. It certainly worked the magic the NBC bosses hoped it would, worth the loss of ratings the movies could have gained on another night.

More: Friends is definitely leaving Netflix but when?

Honestly, I’m not even sure if Friends would have been as big as it was with only five friends. This is a show that worked because of the six friends. They were all different, offering someone for every single viewer to connect to. Whether you loved the quirkiness of Phoebe and Chandler, wanted to be as passionate about something as Monica was about cooking and Ross was about being pedantic, or even just felt like you were had to start over like Rachel and, sometimes, Joey felt, there was something for all.

I would be interested in finding out what NBC would have done had Aniston walked away from Friends. Would another sixth member have joined (maybe someone like Adam Goldberg becoming a permanent fixture?) or would the show have attempted to keep going with just five of them? What would have worked better?

In the end, Muddling Through didn’t do as well as CBS hoped and was canceled after 10 episodes. NBC got its wish and Jennifer Aniston stayed with Friends. The rest is history.

What do you think the show would have been like without Rachel? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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