Friends was and is a blessing to so many people around the world. And so was Matthew Perry.
The alchemy of brilliant writing, a stellar cast, voice-of-a-generation twentysomethings, and hilarity and emotionality in abundance, made it a wonderful series in 1994 — and unbeknown to all of us, were the ingredients to continue to impact generations almost 30 years after that. As the head of comedy development at Warner Bros. Television at that time, it’s definitely a shining star in my career.
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Casting the six Friends, along with creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin Bright, was challenging. They all had to be “stars.” The chemistry had to be believable. You just had to love them. And no one was more elusive than Chandler.
We had happily cast David Schwimmer (Ross), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), Courteney Cox (Monica) and Matt LeBlanc (Joey), and we had two roles to go just days before we started production on the pilot. At Warner Bros. in those days, we were making 10 comedy pilots a year, and I remember going to a run-through of a CBS pilot that was struggling. I was standing next to Barbara Miller, our head of casting, during this run-through, and there was one bright spot in the show, a guest star who would not be a series regular: Matthew Perry. He literally stole the show. At the time we were also casting another pilot for NBC, and we couldn’t find the best friend co-star. I turned to Barbara and said, “What about Matthew for that pilot?” Then we turned our attention back to the run-through and like that a-ha moment in a movie that you really don’t believe happens in real life, we both turned to each other with eyes wide open and said at the same time, “Chandler!”
Matthew had not auditioned for Chandler because he was under contract to a Fox pilot that year. So, I immediately called a friend at Fox who candidly said that it would probably be a safe bet to hire him in second position. We called him in immediately to read for Chandler, and the rest is history. It was magic. (Jennifer Aniston would also be cast as Rachel in second position to a CBS series, and that had a happy ending as well!)
In addition to spending a lot of time on Stage 24 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank over the years with Matthew, plus countless Upfront trips, TCA’s and awards shows, I got to know him personally through mutual friends, game nights (look out for Matthew at running charades!) and wallyball (volleyball inside a racquetball court). True to character, Matthew was fiercely competitive! He presented me with the Lili Claire Foundation Spirit of Leadership Award in 2005. His dedication to his Sober Living house, his recent autobiography and his determination to help others in need inspired many struggling with addictions. A truly hilarious man. A beautiful kind soul. A real friend.
My heart breaks for his family, his friends and everyone involved with Friends. Matthew was indeed family.
David Janollari developed hits including Friends, Living Single, The Drew Carey Show and Suddenly Susan during his time as head of comedy at Warner Bros. Television. He later went on to launch Greenblatt Janollari Studio with his former producing partner, Robert Greenblatt, and together they produced hits including Six Feet Under. More recently, David Janollari Entertainment has developed series including NBC’s Midnight, Texas and Bluff City Law.
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