'Friends' co-creator regrets the show's lack of diversity


Cast member David Schwimmer (fourth from left) says he made a 'conscious push' for more diversity on the show. Photo: Handout

Friends debuted on NBC in 1994 and went on to become one of television's most beloved comedies over its 10-year run. But with its all-white cast, the series was also often criticised for its lack of diversity.

At the recent ATX TV Festival, Marta Kauffman, who created the series with David Crane, got emotional when she was asked what she wishes she had known at the start of her career.

"I wish I knew then what I know today," Kauffman tearfully said. "Sorry, I just wish I knew then what I know now. I would've made very different decisions."

Kauffman added: "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."

Set in New York, Friends followed six white friends and featured predominantly white guest stars, with the exception of girlfriend characters played by Lauren Tom and Aisha Tyler.

Kauffman's comments come amid much anguish and anger over the death of George Floyd, and as many Americans are re-examining race relations.

But as commendable as her words might me, they also ring somewhat hollow, given the fact that television critics and other pop cultural observers constantly criticised Friends and other shows of its time for a lack of diversity.

That Friends took place in one of the world's most diverse cities made the absence of colour even more appalling.

Apparently, even David Schwimmer, one of the show's main cast members, was among the people who wanted changes. In January, he told the The Guardian that he made a "conscious push" for more diversity on the show.

"I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of colour," he said.

"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." (Ross dated Julie, played by Tom, in Season Two, and courted Charlie, played by Tyler, in Seasons Nine and 10.)

Schwimmer added that he would like to see a reimagined version of Friends with a more diverse cast. "Maybe there should be an all-black Friends or an all-Asian Friends," he said.

An unscripted reunion show with all six main cast members was confirmed in February by HBO Max with an intended release date in May. However, the reunion show will now likely have a fall premiere date due to coronavirus-related delays in production, according to Variety. – The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)/Tribune News Service

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