Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: Ross and Rachel were originally not going to get together at the end of “Friends.”
Series finales of famous television shows are extremely difficult for show creators to write, since fans have such high expectations for the very last episode of their favorite series. As a result, many famous TV series have had endings that range from artfully bizarre like “St. Elsewhere”, calmly subdued like “Cheers” and, well, blowing the entire town up like “Little House on the Prairie.” There’s almost no “set” way to write a series finale.
By the end of the tenth season of the hit sitcom, “Friends,” however, there was little left undecided for the series.
Phoebe had already gotten married, Chandler and Monica’s child was not yet born, but obviously no one was expecting a light sitcom to go anywhere dark with a storyline like that (although there was a twist, when it turned out that the woman whose baby Chandler and Monica were adopting actually was having twins!), so the show’s last episode really turned on one question – were Ross and Rachel going to end up together? Every since their famous (or is it infamous?) “break” in Season 3, the show had held off on getting Ross and Rachel back together, coming up with plotline after plotline designed to keep them apart (even some overly outlandish ones that they ended up not actually using). So with the last episode upon the show, what was going to happen with Ross and Rachel? In a shocking spoiler for a show that ended a dozen years ago, Ross and Rachel did end up together, as Rachel got off of a plane bound for Paris after Ross declared his love for her right before she boarded the plane. However, reader Bret S. wrote in to ask if the show originally had a different ending where Ross and Rachel did not end up together (in the alternative, he also wanted to know if they at least filmed an alternate ending where they did not end up together – he had heard the former, but was sure that the latter was at least true).
So did Ross and Rachel almost not make it in “The Last One”?
Read on to find out!
The answer appears to be no to both questions.
In a great interview with Entertainment Weekly’s Dan Snierson, show co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane discussed how they came up with the ending of the series, starting with how they sat down to plan Season 10 (which they knew was going to be the show’s final season before it began, as the cast had all agreed to return for one final (slightly shortened) final season):
CRANE: Season 10, we said, “We can’t keep stopping and starting and rethinking everything.” And that also jived with what some of the cast was thinking. The only thing we absolutely knew from very early on was that we had to get Ross and Rachel together. 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.
KAUFFMAN: And the trick was: “How do we do that, but still have it feel like you don’t expect it to go in the way you thought it would?”
CRANE: It became all about execution. It was going to be an hour show, so we knew we had an hour to get to a point – the end point isn’t going to surprise anybody, but the journey is the question. … Several of the characters had children and were married, so it was all about closure – not just of the 10 years, but of the journey they’d been on in their 20s and early 30s.
KAUFFMAN: There were symbols that became meaningful – the apartment – iconic things and settings that we could say goodbye to.
SNIERSON: Were there endings in which Ross and Rachel didn’t wind up together that you talked about? Or was there a time where you were exploring more radical ideas with other characters?
CRANE: We did talk about, with Ross and Rachel, a gray area of where they aren’t together, but we hint there’s a sense that they might be down the road. But we thought, “No, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.” It’s the nature of our show. It’s not a show about grays. Let’s deliver not just what the audience wants, but what we want, which was to see them finally together. But as for other things, we knew in our final season we wanted to give Chandler and Monica a baby, and then it was fun to give them two. But no, we weren’t looking for some crazy reversal.
Okay, so that answers the whole “were they ever going to NOT have Ross and Rachel end up together?” part of the question. But how about the whole “Did they film an alternate ending where Ross and Rachel don’t get back together, even if only to confuse people as to what the ‘real’ ending would be?” question? The answer to that one is also a no. However, it was a rumor that was instigated BY Kauffman and Crane, as they revealed on the audio commentary for “The Last one.” You see, originally they planned on filming select scenes (like the Ross/Rachel climax) without a studio audience, so that they could keep the ending a secret. They changed their minds, and had the whole episode filmed in front of a studio audience (only about a quarter of the audience were friends and family of the show – mot of the audience were just typical studio audience members) and then started the “multiple endings” rumor to hopefully protect the secrecy of the ending a little bit.
So the legend is…
Thanks to Bret S. for the question! And thanks to Marta Kauffman and David Crane for the information!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.