On Sept. 22, 1994, six telegenic 20-somethings frolicked in a fountain in front of credits that announced the arrival of “Friends,” a new NBC sitcom that would forever change television.
As sitcom scribes scrambling to land on writing staffs during the mid-1990s, we witnessed – with awe and a bit of envy – how “Friends” instantly became a red-hot comedy commodity. According to Nielsen Ratings, it was a top-five most watched program for nine of its 10 seasons.
The series was a ratings juggernaut during its network run, but its afterlife in syndication and streaming has been just as remarkable.
Now we’re TV and screenwriting professors in Emerson College’s Comedic Arts Program. And we couldn’t have ever predicted that our current crop of students would be just as spellbound by Ross and Rachel’s romance, Monica’s lovable neuroses and Joey’s passion for sandwiches. Netflix recently paid a whopping US$80 million for the rights to run the show through 2019.
Networks would love to replicate the series’ success. But the realities of the television landscape today make it unlikely that we’ll ever see another series with as much of a cultural impact as “Friends.”
Here are four reasons why.
1. Shorter seasons mean less screen time
The television season was once as certain as death and taxes.
Shows started in September and ran until May. Most had an average order of 22 episodes per season, with each episode airing once a week. This allowed viewers to make tuning into their favorite show a part of their weekly routine over the course of nine months. From 1994 to 2004, NBC produced 236 episodes of “Friends,” an average of 24 episodes per season.
Today, television seasons are much shorter. While the occasional sitcom still receives that coveted 22-episode order, others get considerably less, and this includes those with a proven track record.