No, Friends Was Not Canceled - Here's Why The Series Really Ended

When audiences discuss the best sitcoms of all time, chances are that "Friends" is quickly mentioned, followed by someone loudly exclaiming: "We were on a break!" The series debuted on NBC in the fall of 1994 and quickly became a phenomenon that captivated the entire nation. It turned its leading cast members into superstars, with all of them still relevant to this day. As one of the most popular shows in the world, one would imagine that "Friends" would take "The Simpsons" route, i.e. staying on television for as long as possible. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end.

As bittersweet as it was to say goodbye to "Friends," audiences showed up to support their favorite characters, making the 2004 finale one of the world's most watched hours of television. Per The New York Times, over 50 million viewers in the United States showed up to say farewell to Ross, Rachel, Monica, and the rest of the gang. Decades later, as the series continues to find a new audience, primarily through streaming, many often why "Friends" was canceled. The truth is, after 10 years of the same shtick, it was time for everyone to move on. 

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly discussing the final episode of "Friends," series creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane opened up about how they had been planning the finale for several years due to the contract negotiations of its lead stars, thinking the series would end with Season 7. But that never happened, and the goalposts were moved to Season 8, then 9, and finally, Season 10, which was decided to be the last. "Season 10, we said, 'We can't keep stopping and starting and rethinking everything,'" Crane discussed, confirming that it was a mutual decision between the show's creators and cast to call it curtains.

The Friends creators knew that Ross and Rachel would get together

For series creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane, it was a challenge to not know if "Friends" was ending or not. A large part of the uncertainty surrounding the series was because of the cast's salaries and their intentions to negotiate their contracts. Once "Friends" became a cultural juggernaut, its leads began to be courted by Hollywood and lucrative promotional deals. Courtney Cox, for instance, found herself co-headlining the "Scream" franchise Gale Weathers, while Lisa Kudrow was seen dominating several comedies during the show's run. It became clear that the case was interested in moving on, but they were also interested in job security. According to Business Insider, the cast collectively negotiated for elevated per-episode rates, starting with Season 7. By the time Season 10 debuted, the lead roster was raking in $1 million per episode. 

Because it was unclear how the contract negotiations would go and if NBC would react to them positively, Kauffman and Crane were focused on knowing what the final batch of episodes would entail. Kauffman confirmed that, for several years, the duo was under the impression that "Friends" would wrap up. When the call came through that Season 10 would be the last, the two knew what beats the finale had to feature. While some plot details were up in the air, one thing was certain: Ross and Rachel were going to get their good ending. "The only thing we absolutely knew from very early on was that we had to get Ross and Rachel together," Crane said. "We had dicked the audience around for 10 years with their 'will they or won't they,' and we didn't see any advantage in frustrating them." 

Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman says it was time for everyone to grow up

When "Friends" started in the mid-'90s, its cast members were in their mid-20s and early 30s. As the show wrapped up, some actors were in their 40s, making it abundantly clear that it was time to move on. "For us, one of the things was: Everybody was growing up," co-creator Marta Kauffman candidly told EW. "This is part of why the show had to end. This was no longer that time in your life when your friends are your family. You're starting your own family." And the series finale lived up to that premise, showing key characters in the process of starting their own families. 

Ultimately, "Friends" wasn't canceled. Instead, it ended on its own terms. For a show as large and impactful as "Friends," it makes sense why some were disappointed that it was coming to an end. But it's important to remember the legacy the series left behind, especially after being on the air for only 10 years. While speaking with NBC News to discuss the finale, Rachel star Jennifer Anniston opened up about how the series became a key part of American culture. "It's the end not just of a sitcom, but of something that's been a big part of our pop culture," Anniston said, remembering some of the most influential concepts of the series. "Remember when every girl had to have Rachel's haircut, when every radio played the theme song? And now, nearly everyone delivers a punch-line just like Chandler Bing." 

Nearly two decades after its finale, "Friends" continues to be one of the most popular shows of all time. When it came time for the long-awaited reunion on HBO MAX, nearly 29% of American households watched it on its first day, per Variety