So no one told you life was (almost) gonna be this way? Jennifer Aniston came close to being recast on Friends, according to author Saul Austerlitz's new BTS book, Generation Friends (as excerpted by Entertainment Weekly.) Cue an emphatic Monica "I know!" Not only would the beloved '90s NBC TV series' friend group have had a different makeup, but the droves of women who rushed to their salons to emulate the decade's most iconic layered hairstyle — dubbed "The Rachel" — may have had a very different look as well.
The reason for Aniston's near-recasting? "The team wanted Jennifer Aniston for the role of Rachel but she had already shot several episodes of an unaired CBS comedy, Muddling Through," Austerlitz wrote in his new book (out Sept. 17), per EW. "If the CBS series was picked up, Friends would lose Aniston midway through its first season."
According to the book, CBS had already shot a half-dozen episodes of Muddling Through — in which Aniston played the eldest daughter of an ex-con motel manager — before deciding to air the show during the "dead zone" of Saturday nights during the summer of 1994. In an attempt to "kill" the show (and, thus, be able to keep their Rachel), NBC reportedly aired TV movie adaptations of Danielle Steel novels in the same time slot which, according to Austerlitz, "were practically guaranteed to attract a substantial, and substantially female, audience."
As you might have guessed, NBC's strategy worked, and Muddling Through was canceled after airing just a few episodes. Last June, Friends co-creator David Crane recounted the averted casting drama in a 2018 interview with TheWrap.
“The fear was that we would shoot four or five of them, and CBS, just to screw with NBC, would pick up Muddling Through, and then we would have to recast and reshoot the first five episodes,” he explained. “We were holding our breath the whole time, looking at the ratings. You never wish ill on another show.”
As Crane's husband and co-showrunner on Showtime's Episodes, Jeffrey Klarik added, however: “Every week we’d think please God let it go off.”
Fortunately, Friends got to keep their original Rachel, so producers never were tasked with finding a replacement actor. If they did, however, the role may have gone to another iconic '90s actor. Back in 2018, Saved by the Bell's Tiffani Thiessen revealed she almost played Rachel on Friends.
“Did you know I tested for Friends, for Jennifer Aniston?” Thiessen said during an episode of SiriusXM’s You Up w/ Nikki Glaser last year. “I was just a little too young. I was a little too young to the pairing of the rest of them.”
When Friends premiered in 1994, Thiessen (aka Kelly Kapowski) was just 20 years old. (On Sept. 22, Friends will celebrate the 25th anniversary of its premiere.) At the time, Aniston — the youngest Friends cast member — was five years her senior. Things seemed to work out just fine for Thiessen though, as she went on to play Valerie Malone on Beverly Hills, 90210.
While the "we were on a break" conundrum may continue to spark debate, one thing most people can agree upon is that there would have been no better lobster for Ross than Rachel — and nobody could have played her quite like Aniston.