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How The 9/11 Tragedy Changed Friends

The September 11, 2001 terror attack is and will forever remain one of the worst tragedies to ever befall the United States. Between the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City and the attack on the Pentagon in Washington D.C., nearly 3,000 individuals lost their lives, and numerous others suffered from extensive injuries — many of which have still not healed nearly two decades later. To honor the memories of those killed on 9/11, we must never forget the horrors of that Tuesday and the fallout from it.

One way the event has been commemorated in the years that followed is through media. 2006's "World Trade Center" starring Nicolas Cage and the episode "Isaac and Ishmael" of the popular political drama "The West Wing" stand out as some of the most recognizable examples, and they were far from alone. However, as often as 9/11 is used as a narrative device these days, the public wasn't ready to relive that trauma immediately. This led many projects that were in development at the time to undergo significant changes that entailed the removal of similar imagery to that of the news coverage and the avoidance of terrorism as a central topic.

This phenomenon wasn't limited to small television productions or niche big screen flicks either. One episode of one of the biggest shows of all time and frequent purveyor of thought-provoking storylines, "Friends," required serious alterations to accommodate for the post-9/11 world.

9/11 changed the story of an entire Friends episode

By late September of 2001, "Friends" was going strong in its eighth season, or at least that's how it seemed. In reality, the third episode of said season, "The One Where Rachel Tells...," had to be rewritten and reshot in response to the 9/11 tragedy. The version that aired two weeks after the real-life event centers on Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courteney Cox) traveling by airplane for their honeymoon. While waiting at the airport, the two become engulfed in a rivalry with another couple that kept getting sweeter perks than them. 

This is quite different from the initial plot of the episode, which never even saw Chandler and Monica make it to their hotel. According to Insider, as they waited to get on their flight, Chandler made a sarcastic remark about bombs, prompting airport security to detain them for much of the episode. To make matters worse, Monica got into a brief argument with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) over the phone that resulted in further interrogation from the security officers who misread the situation.

It's not hard to see why this original story was cut — bearing in mind the cultural sensitivity to air travel, bombs, and general concerns about airport security at the time. A few deleted clips from the unused episode have since resurfaced and are currently available to watch on YouTube for those curious. Though from a 2021 perspective, it appears rather tame, 20 years ago it would've acted as salt in the wound for viewers across the US. Ultimately, the "Friends" showrunners made the right call.