The sitcom Friends continues to dominate in syndication, nearly 20 years after it first debuted on NBC. Now, behind the scenes anecdotes reveal that the show–which continues to endure criticism for homophobia–almost included a major gay character.
Friends revolved around the lives of a group of single 20 and 30-somethings living in New York City during the 1990s. The show became an immediate hit when it debuted, making megastars out of its cast Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. For 10 seasons, viewers turned in to laugh at the floundering attempts by the characters to survive adult life and responsibility, and to keep up to date with their romantic lives.
For one character, that almost included a groundbreaking storyline. Ranker reports that the producers had originally intended the character of Chandler (played by Perry) to be gay. The final series instead featured a running gag that everyone thinks Chandler is gay, which constantly makes him feel uncomfortable.
The reasons the producers nixed the Chandler-as-gay storyline remain unclear. In the mid-90s, adding a major gay character to a TV series was still considered a very risky proposition–enough so to prompt the producers or NBC executives to nix anything that could hurt the show as a ratings winner. Friends lore also holds that Matthew Perry once vetoed a storyline involving Chandler visiting a male strip club, as it reportedly made the actor feel “uncomfortable.”
Though Chandler never came out on the show–he ended up with Courtney Cox’s Monica when the show ended–Friends did feature a number of queer characters over its 10 season run. Modern critics have lambasted those characters–which included a frigid lesbian couple, and Chandler’s transgender father–as homophobic. The same goes for the running jokes about Chandler’s sexuality. Actress Lisa Kudrow has defended the show’s treatment of queer characters, as well as its all-white cast, referring to the sitcom as a “time capsule.”
Of course, there is an easy way to address some of these ongoing issues with the Friends legacy: stage a reunion special in which Chandler does finally come out of the closet, reconcile with his transgender father and find a nice man to date. We’d watch.