Four years before Sex and the City would premiere, NBC launched Friends, a sitcom about six twentysomethings figuring out life and drinking freakish amounts of coffee in New York City. And not only did the women of Friendstalk about sex, but they had sex, something that might not sound revolutionary today but wasn’t necessarily commonplace on television in 1994, so much so that the network tried to stop one story from hitting the screen.
In the Friends pilot, Monica Geller (Courteney Cox) goes on her first date with Paul the wine guy and ends up sleeping with him. “When we were doing the pilot, Don Meyer, who was then the head of NBC, took real issue with the fact that Monica sleeps with a guy on the first date. He said, ‘We’re not going to like her!’ But we really held our ground on it.”
Thankfully, director James Burrows planned to have a live audience for the network run-through, as Crane put it, “so you can hear what’s working.” And NBC saw the pilot run-through as an opportunity to get some feedback. “The network gave the audience a questionnaire that was so skewed,” Crane remembers. “It basically said: ‘When she does this, is she a trollop? Is she a slut?’”
But the result was not what the network expected. “The audience all came back with, ‘No, we still like her,’” Crane says. “Then Don got on board because he said, ‘Well I’m okay with it because she gets what she deserves when the guy sort of screws her over.’” Remember: After sleeping with Paul, Monica discovers that his claim that he hasn’t had sex in two years is a line he’s used before to get women into bed.
“I could see the steam coming out of [co-creator] Marta’s [Kauffman] nose,” Crane says in reference to Meyer’s comment. “And I’m tap-dancing going, ‘But you’re okay with it! So if you’re okay with it then we’re good, let’s move on, yay!’”
And in the end, the entire story made it into the pilot.