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‘Friends’ Almost Lost Jennifer Aniston Halfway Through Its First Season

Can you imagine "Friends," much less the entire 1990s, without Jennifer Aniston? 

NBC

The thought is almost too wild to entertain, but there exists a parallel universe in which Rachel got written off — or worse, recast — in “Friends.” The New York-set sitcom that defined the 1990s and ran into the early aughts, created by Marta Kaufman and David Crane, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its pilot episode this September. To mark the occasion, culture historian Saul Austerlitz has written a book, “Generation Friends,” detailing the history of the show, from inception to grand finale. Advance excerpts of the book obtained by EW reveal the potential casting snafu.

Apparently Aniston had already shot a few episodes of an unaired CBS sitcom titled “Muddling Through” when she was cast in “Friends.” If the series had been picked up, Aniston would have had to leave “Friends” halfway through the first season.

Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“‘Muddling Through’ had already shot a half-dozen episodes, none of which had aired, and CBS, after some dithering, ultimately chose to put the show on its summer schedule, in the relative dead zone of Saturday nights. Hearing the news, [Warren] Littlefield turned to [Preston] Beckman, NBC’s scheduling guru, with a two-word order: ‘Kill it.’

Beckman returned with a crafty suggestion for eliminating ‘Muddling Through”s prospects. Beckman was sitting on a trove of unreleased original TV films adapted from Danielle Steel novels. They were practically guaranteed to attract a substantial, and substantially female, audience. If they were to be scheduled opposite ‘Muddling Through’? Well, no show about an ex-con motel manager and her daffy family was likely to provide stiff competition for Steel’s glamorous romances.

Beckman would schedule the Steel movies for the first few Saturday nights Muddling Through was on the air, with repeats scheduled for the weeks that followed. It was a necessary sacrifice, giving up some of the ratings the movies might have garnered on another, more attractive, night in exchange for eliminating a rival to potential future Thursday-night success.”

But that’s not all, apparently Courteney Cox’s Monica was initially offered to Janeane Garofalo, at the height of her fame in the mid-’90s. Rather than the obsessive compulsive neat freak portrayed by Cox, the character was originally written as “tough, defended, cynical, sarcastic,” described as having “the attitude of Sandra Bernhard or Rosie O’Donnell and the looks of Duff.” (A reference to MTV VJ and model Karen Duffy.)

Penguin Random House will publish Saul Austerlitz’s “Generation Friends” on September 17. Read the rest of the excerpts, including how the show narrowly avoided an ornery older cop character, over at EW.

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