TV URBAN LEGEND: Ross and Rachel were originally not going to get together at the end of "Friends."
Finales of popular television shows are particularly difficult for creators to write, as fans have such high expectations. As a result, many famous TV series have ended with episodes that range from artfully bizarre like "St. Elsewhere” to calmly subdued like "Cheers" to, well, explosive, like "Little House on the Prairie." There's almost no "set" way to write a series finale.
By the end of the 10th season of the hit sitcom “Friends," however, there was little left undecided. Phoebe had already gotten married, and Chandler and Monica's child was not yet born, but obviously no one was expecting a light sitcom to go anywhere dark with a storyline like that, so the final episode really turned on one question: Were Ross and Rachel going to end up together? Ever since their famous (or is it infamous?) "break" in Season 3, the show had held off on getting Ross and Rachel back together, coming up with plotline after plotline designed to keep them apart (even some overly outlandish ones they ended up not actually using). So, as the series reached its end, what was going to happen with Ross and Rachel?
In a shocking spoiler for a show that ended a dozen years ago, Ross and Rachel did end up together, as Rachel got off of a plane bound for Paris after Ross declared his love for her. However, reader Bret S. wrote in to ask whether the show originally had a different ending where Ross and Rachel didn’t end up together (in the alternative, he also wanted to know whether another ending had been filmed, as he had heard the former, but was sure the latter was at least true).
So did Ross and Rachel almost not make it in "The Last One"?
The answer appears to be no to both questions.
In a great interview with Entertainment Weekly's Dan Snierson, “Friends” co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane discussed how they came up with the ending, starting with how they sat down to plan Season 10 (which they knew was going to be the final one):
CRANE: Season 10, we said, “We can’t keep stopping and starting and rethinking everything.” And that also jived with what some of the cast was thinking. The only thing we absolutely knew from very early on was that we had to get Ross and Rachel together. We had dicked the audience around for 10 years with their “will they or won’t they,” and we didn’t see any advantage in frustrating them.
KAUFFMAN: And the trick was: “How do we do that, but still have it feel like you don’t expect it to go in the way you thought it would?”
CRANE: It became all about execution. It was going to be an hour show, so we knew we had an hour to get to a point – the end point isn’t going to surprise anybody, but the journey is the question. … Several of the characters had children and were married, so it was all about closure – not just of the 10 years, but of the journey they’d been on in their 20s and early 30s.
KAUFFMAN: There were symbols that became meaningful – the apartment – iconic things and settings that we could say goodbye to.
SNIERSON: Were there endings in which Ross and Rachel didn’t wind up together that you talked about? Or was there a time where you were exploring more radical ideas with other characters?
CRANE: We did talk about, with Ross and Rachel, a gray area of where they aren’t together, but we hint there’s a sense that they might be down the road. But we thought, “No, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it.” It’s the nature of our show. It’s not a show about grays. Let’s deliver not just what the audience wants, but what we want, which was to see them finally together. But as for other things, we knew in our final season we wanted to give Chandler and Monica a baby, and then it was fun to give them two. But no, we weren’t looking for some crazy reversal.
OK, so that answers the whole "were they ever going to not have Ross and Rachel end up together?" part of the question. But how about whether they’d filmed an alternate ending, even if only to confuse people? The answer to that one is also a no.
However, it was a rumor that was instigated by Kauffman and Crane, as they revealed on the audio commentary for "The Last One." You see, originally they planned on filming select scenes (like the Ross/Rachel climax) without a studio audience, so they could keep the ending a secret. They changed their minds, and had the whole episode filmed in front of an audience (about one-quarter of the audience were friends and family of the show) and then started the "multiple endings" rumor in hopes of protecting the secrecy of the ending a little bit.
So the legend is...
Thanks to Bret S. for the question! And thanks to Marta Kauffman and David Crane for the information!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.