On Sunday, cast members from shows such as “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Will and Grace” and “The Big Bang Theory” will salute veteran sitcom director James Burrows in the NBC special “Must See TV: A Tribute to James Burrows.” But no cast’s appearance has been touted more than that of “Friends.” Five of the six main cast members will be in attendance; Matthew Perry will appear in a pre-taped segment.
News of the Burrows special sent longtime rumors of a “Friends” reunion into overdrive, though creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane have since reiterated what they’ve said all along: There will be no official “Friends” reunion.
Kauffman and Crane, who met while doing theater in college, also teamed up on HBO’s “Dream On” and the NBC show “Veronica’s Closet.” Kauffman’s latest creation, “Grace and Frankie,” has been renewed for a third season on Netflix. Crane and his partner, Jeffrey Klarik, co-created the Showtime comedy “Episodes,” which stars “Friends” alum Matt LeBlanc.
But their names are synonymous with “Friends,” which the Hollywood Reporter declared “Hollywood’s favorite show” last fall. In a phone interview, Kauffman and Crane talked about the reunion rumors and how they view the show’s legacy.
The interview has been edited and for length and clarity.
Q: How often do you get the reunion question?
Kauffman: Constantly. All the time. I was once in a bar with a friend of mine, we were having a drink and a bunch of people walked in and they were talking about how, “It’s official, there’s going to be a ‘Friends’ reunion,” and I’m sitting there with my friend going, “No, no, there’s not.”
Crane: It is remarkable the number of times that it has been reported absolutely and definitively there’s going to be a reunion. And I think Marta and I probably both have the same reaction to first go: “Why didn’t anyone tell us?” And then we find out no, we’re right, it’s not happening.
And we don’t want to it happen. I mean, if you talk about a reunion – getting the characters back together, like where are they now – that just seems like a terrible idea.
Kauffman: And part of my feeling about that is as we’ve always said the show for us was about that time in your life when your friends are your family and once you start to have a family of your own, it’s no longer that time in your life, so you know the show’s purpose would be gone and if you’re not doing the vision of the show, then why do it? I think it can only be disappointing.
Q: Are you against reboots and reunions in general? Or is there something unique about “Friends” that would make it hard?
Crane: I really like “Star Wars” and I really like “Star Trek,” but I really don’t want to see “Friends” come back that way. I think it depends on what you’re talking about. One of the things that makes it particularly difficult with our show was that it was a multi-camera show in front of an audience. So when people talk about “Oh, there should be a ‘Friends’ movie,” it totally changes the nature of what the show was. It isn’t in, like, a show like “Sex and the City,” which was much more [film-like] in its original form.
Kauffman: We used to joke that we were going to do a cartoon called “Friends Babies.”
Crane: There you go, that’s your reboot. On one hand, I was going to say that the actors have all gone on to do really good work and so it’s not like you’re not getting to see them. And as far as if you really want to see “Friends,” God knows, knock on wood, it’s on TV.
Q: It’s also on Netflix. Do you ever hear from people who are watching it for the first time?
Crane: It is shocking how much we don’t remember. We’ll run into people who talk about moments or scenes or stories and I’m like, “I have the vaguest recollection.” We worked hard those 10 years and a lot of stuff is just, I don’t know …
Crane: It is amazing the number of children of friends who are discovering the show for the first time and that’s so exciting. The fact that it feels current and contemporary to them and that they can invest in these characters, stories from like 20 years ago and that there’s still something relatable and aspirational — that part of it is incredibly exciting and gratifying.
Kauffman: And surprising.
Q: A few weeks ago, someone posted on Reddit that it was the day Chandler Bing was supposed to call Susie Moss, referring to an episode from 20 years ago (“The One After the Superbowl Part 2″). Does it surprise you how invested people still are in the show and the characters?
Kauffman: It’s sort of surreal. And truly wonderful. I don’t think we can be any more proud or grateful that the show has retained its fanbase.
Crane: You don’t do the work for that — it was just each week trying to tell a funny story and to invest in these people and the fact that that investment is still here all these years later and, apparently, with this new level of enthusiasm, it’s fantastic.
Kauffman: We used to say at the end of the show — “another one that didn’t suck.”
Crane: And here we are, apparently they didn’t.
Q: What do you watch on television now?
Kauffman: I watch drama. I don’t watch a lot of comedy except David’s shows. Watching comedy is like work.
Crane: I’d agree for the most part. I definitely watch Marta’s show. Jeffrey [Klarik] and I watch “Silicon Valley” and “Veep,” which really make us laugh. On the whole it’s dramas.
Q: Do you think a lot has changed about sitcoms, in particular?
Kauffman: When we did “Friends,” there was a big concern about can you do a show about people that age and have people who aren’t that age watch? No one asked me that question about “Grace and Frankie.” Now that there’s more of an opportunity to do niche television, you can do the show completely that you want to do.
When we did “Friends” at first, they wanted an older character and we said no.
Crane: The argument that we made was if you’re telling stories that people can relate to it doesn’t matter how old the characters are. And certainly everyone has been that age and everyone has wanted to have those kinds of friends.
Q: What did you learn from “Friends” that have translated to your later projects?
Kauffman: Everything. We learned so many valuable lessons, some that were very surprising to us.
Dramaturgically, you always hear that you want to see things in the moment, you want to see things happen, you don’t want to talk about things, but with “Friends,” it was more fun when they talked about it. There were many lessons learned about story, about characters, about working with actors and working with directors.
Q: Do either of you have a favorite episode?
Kauffman: That’s like saying, “Do you have a favorite child?”
Crane: This is not a favorite one, but there is certainly a very fond place in my heart for any of the Thanksgiving shows. Somehow everything always came together for those.
And anytime anyone had a baby. The baby shows — it was like, I think we knew, OK, this has got to count, you can’t have some middling C story that might or might not work. I think everyone brought their A-game to those shows.
Q: How do you view the show’s legacy now?
Kauffman: That’s a very big word. I think for me personally the greatest part of it is that people still get joy from it. It makes them happy. It makes them smile, it makes them laugh, it makes them care. And I certainly still get a great deal of joy from the memory of doing it.
Crane: There’s something so digestible about television. You watch it, you enjoy it and you move on. The fact that we’re still here is astonishing.
Kauffman: I also believe that’s because television is a very intimate experience. It’s in your home, you watch it in your PJs and while you’re folding towels. It’s a different experience. I think for that reason those characters and their stories can stay with you.