Most television shows derive inspiration from previously existing shows, at least to some extent. But there are a few notable instances when show creators blatantly copy someone else’s idea. To Jerry Seinfeld, that’s exactly what Friends creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane did to him.
Seinfeld has often been described as a show about nothing — another concept that the comedian rejects as being “made up by the press.” Meanwhile, Friends seemed to have more involved storylines. So why did Seinfeld accuse the Friends creators of plagiarizing his ideas?
‘Seinfeld’ was a revolutionary concept at the time
No one can accuse Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David of ripping off anyone else. When the show debuted in 1989, there was nothing else like it on television, which explains why it took so long for audiences to come around to the idea. But once they did, Seinfeld became one of the most beloved, enduring comedies of all time.
The show centers on the stand-up comic and a few of his friends as they navigate life in New York City. Most of the action occurs in Seinfeld’s apartment and most of the topics focus on the minutiae of everyday life. For example, there’s an entire episode focused on the group waiting to be seated at a Chinese restaurant.
Did ‘Friends’ take inspiration from ‘Seinfeld’?
There are noticeable similarities between Seinfeld and Friends. Both shows are set in New York City and both feature young single friend groups who don’t associate with their families very much. But even though there were differences between the two sitcoms, Seinfeld claims they blatantly ripped him off.
“We thought, ‘They [Friends creators] wanna do our show with better-looking people. That’s what they’re doing here,’” the comedian told The Hollywood Reporter. “And we thought, ‘That should work.’”
David said something similar. “He said that?” the co-creator said in response to Seinfeld’s comment. “He’s right. We all knew it. Just look at it — a group of friends in New York.”
‘Friends’ did have one major difference compared to ‘Seinfeld’
There was one unwritten rule on Seinfeld that didn’t apply to the cast of Friends. David insisted that the show not become a vehicle for moral instruction and instead used dark humor to promote a kind of nihilistic worldview.
As Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture wrote, “Seinfeld was never content merely to amuse. It seemed to loathe the idea that audiences might get too comfortable with it. David admonished the writing staff that there would be ‘no hugging, no learning’ in the scripts, and there wasn’t. Ever.”
Meanwhile, there are dozens of instances of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey embracing and learning important lessons about life. Overall, the show was a lot more optimistic than Seinfeld.
There’s no comparison to ‘Seinfeld’
Friends may have been a sitcom about friends in New York, but the overall messaging and structure of the show veered into a different place. Arguably, other shows besides Friends took inspiration from the groundbreaking premise of Seinfeld – like Sex and the City, another show about single friends in the city.
And no matter what, no other comedy will ever take the place of Seinfeld in people’s hearts.