In the second episode of Friends, way back in 1994, the television in Monica and Rachel’s apartment is tuned to a rerun of another sitcom, one that had aired its last original episode 10 years before.
“I think this is the episode of Three’s Company where’s there some kind of misunderstanding,” Chandler says in “The One With the Sonogram at the End.”
“Then I’ve already seen this,” replies Phoebe, picking up the remote.
It’s a mildly funny exchange between Matthew Perry and Lisa Kudrow that highlights characters we were still getting to know. But it’s also a nod to the way TV worked. Sitcom episodes, familiar yet not particularly memorable, tend to repeat well, and a show surviving long enough to go into syndication could make the people who produced them yacht-loads of money.
In September 1994, the creators of Friends, Bala Cynwyd’s David Crane — then known better in Philadelphia as the son of NBC10 veteran Gene Crane — and Broomall’s Marta Kauffman, could only dream of that kind of success. Ten seasons later, Friends left NBC in a finale that attracted more than 52.5 million viewers, and reruns were already making big money for Warner Bros., the creators, and the cast.
Netflix, then just sending out DVDs, was still a few years away from the streaming revolution that in 2015 would give its subscribers Friends-on-demand and ultimately lead the service that’s spending billions to develop its owns shows to pay a reported $100 million to keep Friends through 2019, but not before a brief Twitter panic.
Netflix famously doesn’t share its viewership numbers, but with so much emphasis on the originals with which it’s flooding the service, it wouldn’t be paying so much for Friends if it weren’t a hit.
Still, setting aside the fact that buying the entire series on DVD costs less than six months of a standard Netflix subscription, why would anyone be watching Friends on Netflix when there are so many other choices?