Friends Co-Creator Has Regrets Over Lack of Diversity

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Friends, the 25-year-old sitcom that seems just as popular today as it was during its original run from 1994-2004, is still making headlines as viewers look back at the show and many of its dated aspects.

The series, which is now streaming on HBO Max, has been criticized for its lack of diversity. The criticism was there during its original run and continues as more viewers discover or rewatch the show. At the 2020 ATX TV Festival (virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic), Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman spoke about the show’s lack of diversity. Set in New York, the show followed six white friends and featured predominately white guest stars with the exception of girlfriend characters played by Lauren Tom and Aisha Tyler.

“I wish I knew then what I know today,” Kauffman said during an ATX TV…from the Couch panel. Kauffman teared up and apologized, noting she would have made different decisions.

“We’ve always encouraged people of diversity in our company, but I didn’t do enough. Now all I can think about is what can I do? What can I do differently? How can I run my show in a new way? That’s something I wish I knew when I started showrunning,” Kauffman said according to Deadline, noting she wished she knew it “all the way up through last year” as well.

Kauffman is also the co-creator of Netflix’s Grace & Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

David Schwimmer, Ross on Friends, responded to the criticism the show has received since joining the streaming world, and defended how progressive it was at the time.

“The truth is also that show was groundbreaking in its time for the way in which it handled so casually sex, protected sex, gay marriage and relationships. The pilot of the show was my character’s wife left him for a woman and there was a gay wedding, of my ex and her wife, that I attended,” Schwimmer told The Guardian.

“I feel that a lot of the problem today in so many areas is that so little is taken in context. You have to look at it from the point of view of what the show was trying to do at the time,” he continued. “I’m the first person to say that maybe something was inappropriate or insensitive, but I feel like my barometer was pretty good at that time. I was already really attuned to social issues and issues of equality.”

Schwimmer’s Ross dated the characters played by Tom and Tyler.

“Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends,” Schwimmer said. “But I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color. One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”

Lisa Kudrow, Phoebe on Friends, said the show would be “completely different” if it was currently on in 2020.

“Well, it would not be an all-white cast, for sure. I’m not sure what else, but, to me, it should be looked at as a time capsule, not for what they did wrong. Also, this show thought it was very progressive,” Kudrow told The Sunday Times while promoting Space Force. “There was a guy whose wife discovered she was gay and pregnant, and they raised the child together? We had surrogacy too. It was, at the time, progressive.”

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