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They almost wrote Jennifer Aniston off the show?! On its 25th anniversary, an exclusive look at the making of Friends.

It’s time to wish our Friends a happy birthday. On Sept. 22, NBC’s era-defining sitcom will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its premiere. The story of six lovably neurotic friends—played by Jennifer Aniston, now 50; Courteney Cox, 55; Lisa Kudrow, 56; Matt LeBlanc, 52; Matthew Perry, 50; and David Schwimmer, 52— navigating the caffeine-fueled excitement and terrors of New York City, developed into a cultural phenomenon over the course of its 10-season run, winning Emmys and amassing 52.5 million viewers (live!) for its series finale in 2004.

And Friends—or Friends Like Us, as it was once going to be called— has lived on in enduring Saturday Night Live impersonations, Central Perk coffee-shop pop-ups, old DVD sets, cable reruns, and endless Netflix binges. (Get those in while you can. In the U.S., the show will depart the streaming service for HBO Max in 2020.) It feels like the series is still at the height of its popularity, a success that owes everything to its magical combination of six practically unknown actors.

And yet! As author Saul Austerlitz reveals in his new book, Generation Friends, the show’s casting was hardly so simple. In fact, the sitcom was dangerously close to going in several different directions. Here, EW presents exclusive excerpts from the book, detailing the fascinating behind-the-scenes machinations that went into creating the definitive TV gang. —David Canfield

The One With a Melting Pot

The show only had eight weeks to find its cast—and preferably one as diverse as its New York City setting.

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