As the series finale approaches, "Friends" co-creators and producers Marta Kaufman and David Crane acknowledge mixed feelings about the end of the run.
"It's somewhere between getting a divorce from someone you're still in love with and losing someone," said Kaufman in a conference call with entertainment reporters.
Crane compared the moment to sending a kid off to college.
"You know it's the right time and it's the right thing," he said, "but you just don't want to see them go."
"The only thing is," said Kaufman, "your kid has a chance of coming back after four years."
Fans of "Friends" will have to be content with reruns in syndication, DVD editions of the show and "Joey," the spinoff based on Matt LeBlanc's character, an actor who moves to Los Angeles as the "Friends" principals disperse after 10 years of growing up together in New York.
"Friends" is scheduled to end May 6 with a one-hour retrospective, followed by the ultimate "very special episode" -- a one-hour show that is expected to wrap up the story lines of Joey, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler and Ross.
Fans, of course, want to know how Crane and Kaufman will wind things up, but neither was prepared to be very specific.
"You can expect whatever you like," said Kaufman.
A wedding, perhaps?
"I don't know that that is specifically something that I'd be looking for," said Crane. "I think it's very important to both of us that we leave these characters in a really good place, but I don't know that that necessarily means that people have to be walking down an aisle."
Kaufman said she and Crane had a specific intention in writing the last episode -- to give viewers a sense that all the characters were going to be OK.
"In one way or another," added Crane. "People's definition of 'OK' may be very different."
One thing viewers will not see is the final scene that Crane and Kaufman originally wanted for the show. Without describing the scene, both agreed that it was too emotionally difficult to write it, so they worked around it.
Kaufman and Crane are not inclined to talk about their show's place in TV history, but with a 10-year run at or near the top of the ratings heap, "Friends" has earned a place of honor alongside other classics such as "Cheers," "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "All in the Family."
About the only thing those shows have that "Friends" doesn't is an abundance of Emmy Awards. "Friends" has about as many Emmy nominations as "Frasier" has wins -- 31 -- and has only won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series once, in 2002.
NBC's relationship with "Friends" has been so rewarding that when the cast -- LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer -- decided to leave after the show's ninth season, the network threw truckloads of money their way and persuaded them all to come back for one more season. If NBC had made a similar offer for an 11th season next year, Kaufman and Crane said there is no way they would have gone for it -- even if the cast had said yes.
"Friends" is leaving the air at a time when broadcasters are feeling a chill from federal regulators over indecent content, an issue that came up often during the show's run. Kaufman said NBC urged her and Crane to tone things down after some infamous episodes of "Seinfeld" -- one involving a condom, another involving a contest to see who could go longest without having sex.
"We went through a very, very difficult reactionary period where we couldn't say certain words and they didn't want us to talk about certain, even make jokes about, certain kinds of sex," she said. "We tried to fight it tooth and nail."
Kaufman recalled an episode in which Rachel and Monica had to decide which would be able to use the last condom they had between them.
"We felt so strongly that this was responsible television, that somebody was going to give up her night because there was one condom left," she said. "We were never able to show that condom wrapper."
"Friends" has often been called a show about a specific generation, but Kaufman insisted she and Crane never tried to capture a generation. Crane said the stories were always meant to appeal to a wide age range.
"There was concern at NBC originally that all the characters were right in the same demographic," he said. "They pushed for us to add an older character. You know, 'Where's Pops, who owns the coffee house? Couldn't there be like some cop who ambles in and has like opinions?' We kept insisting that so long as you cared about the characters and there was a universal aspect to the stories, you didn't have to service every demographic."
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