‘Friends’ Is Iconic But It Originally Had a Very Different Name

Would you watch a show called Insomnia Cafe? Whether or not you would, the fact was millions of people did — for ten years, no less. By the time the show made it to air, it got the more prosaic name of Friends.

By now, even the world “friends” may conjure up images of Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer,  Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry,  Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc, even if people are not referring to the NBC sitcom. As it turns out, Friends was the sloppy second name that ended up sticking. 

What’s an ‘Insomnia Cafe?’

The cast of NBC sitcom 'Friends.'
(L-R) Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Matt Le Blanc as Joey Tribbiani, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay | NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Insomnia Cafe sounds like the name of a coffee shop in a college town, with students slamming back cup after cup as they cram for exams. Instead, it was the original name of Friends, or one of them, at least, according to Mental Floss

Specifically, Insomnia Cafe was the name of the seven-page pitch that creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman wrote. At this stage of the game, Ross and Rachel weren’t the key relationships; Joey and Monica were. 

According to Vanity Fair’s oral history of the show, after NBC bought the pilot, the title got closer to what it became:  Friends Like Us. Another suggested title was Across the Hall.

When cameras rolled, it had a name almost as odd as Insomnia Cafe: Six of One. By the time the show premiered on September 22, 1994, NBC shortened one of the suggested titles to Friends. Simple and to the point.

Who almost got to be ‘Friends’? 

The odd development tales went far beyond the title page. Kathy Griffin and Jane Lynch met when both were auditioning for the part of Phoebe. Iron Man director Jon Favreau and Jon Cryer were considered for Chandler before the role went to Perry. ‘

Cox had almost gotten to be a different character. She had sprung on the scene as the girl whom Bruce Springsteen pulled out of the crowd in his “Dancing in the Dark” video, directed by Brian De Palma, who had just made Scarface and would direct The Untouchables a few years later. The producers wanted Cox to play Rachel, but she persuaded them to give her Monica instead. 

“Courteney had just come off a terrible Bronson Pinchot show, where she played the wife,” Crane said. As for who eventually got Rachel, former NBC head Warren Littlefield said, “I remember watching Muddling Through, Jennifer’s show. It was bad. I thought, They (CBS) won’t pick up this horrible show just to f—us, will they?”

Thankfully for hairstylists everywhere working on clients who wanted to look like Rachel, CBS didn’t. 

‘Friends’ is still all the rage

The pull of Friends is still so strong, that when it was announced that the show would leave Netflix, dozens of “What will we do” pieces sprang up all around the Internet. If fans are willing to shell out $15 a month, they’ll be able to watch it on HBO Max, the new streaming service owned by Warner Bros. which holds the rights to Friends

The show shot on the studio’s classic Burbank lot, and that’s actually where the opening credits were shot too. The fountain the friends are dancing around while the Rembrandts play strongly resembles one in Central Park, but since Warners could shoot close to their own lot, why spend a fortune shooting the real thing?

That may seem like a strange statement, considering the show and its cast ultimately made many millions of dollars over the years. Now even more money will be coming with the cast agreeing to appear on a retrospective reunion special that will air on HBO Max. Each of the six principal cast members will be paid between $3 million and $4 million.