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Arts | Culture

‘Friends’ is leaving Netflix — and fans are reeling

Friends anniversary
“Friends” is leaving Netflix after Dec. 31.
(Warner Bros. Television)

Calli Simmons, a 20-year-old college student from Tennessee, doesn’t know what she’ll watch after Tuesday.

Her TV habits have been automatic for so long: Pull up the Netflix app, watch three or four episodes of “Friends” each day, sleep and repeat — in between school and work, of course.

“It’s been a regular part of my daily routine,” she says proudly, noting that her mother was a devoted viewer of the popular series during its original broadcast run. “I never get tired of it.”

But she’s about to find herself on a break from that habit. On Wednesday, the sitcom’s 236 episodes will no longer be available to stream in the U.S. on Netflix.

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And Simmons, like others who have (re)discovered the series through the service, is coping with the thought of going a day, a week, a month or even a year — well, not quite — without being able to hang out with TV besties Monica, Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe.

Alexandra Fitch, 29, a hairstylist and bartender in Oregon, remembers watching with her older sister during the series’ original broadcast run. The series finale stands out as a moment she and her family gathered round the TV.

“It’s been a constant in my life,” she says. “Especially with the age I am right now, which is the age the characters are on the show. I’m going through some of the same things you see them going through. And it’s not over the top. It’s situations that happen in everyday life.”

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Fitch has the first and last season on DVD, but not the seasons in between. She knows the times it airs on Nick at Nite. But Netflix presented a more convenient viewing experience, making it possible for her and her boyfriend to go through upwards of five episodes a night, even if it was just to have on in the background while cooking. She’s been pricing her options but hasn’t figured out what route she’ll take to sustain her “Friends” habit.

After all, there isn’t exactly a scarcity of “Friends” — and there won’t be after Tuesday either. It‘s readily available on DVD and widely syndicated, and individual episodes and seasons can be purchased or rented on digital retailers. As for streaming, the series, which was produced by Warner Bros. Television, is slated to be available on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max when it launches in May.

Still, the social media air has been thick with annoyance and (cheeky) panic from die-hards in recent weeks. Some have expressed their disappointment by threatening to cancel their Netflix subscriptions. Others have simply relayed their sorrow in humorous statements about the loss. There are those who’ve declared one last marathon before it’s gone, and others relieved to have been gifted DVDs of the show over the holidays. Unsurprisingly, internet memes have sprung up in an attempt to capture the agony.

Jordan Finnegan, a student at University of Iowa who jumped on the bandwagon her sophomore year of high school at the urging of friends, plans to watch what she can before the show is wiped from Netflix. On her list: “The One Where No One Is Ready,” which birthed hallmark moments like Joey, in commando mode, wearing every piece of Chandler’s clothing and talk of cushions being the essence of a chair; and “The One Where Everybody Finds Out,” which gave rise to the epic mind-twister “They don’t know that we know they know we know.”

“I can’t explain the connection I feel toward it,” Finnegan says. “It doesn’t feel like an old show. It’s relatable. It’s funny. And it’s happy, not dark. I can go through three to five episodes a day. It is by far the show I watch the most on Netflix.”

Finnegan says she doesn’t have access to cable when she’s away at college. But when she’s visiting home, she plans to catch reruns when she can. Her parents have HBO, so she’s hopeful she’ll have access to the show when it hits HBOMax, which will cost $14.99 per month.

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Until then, “I don’t know what I’m going to watch,” she says.

Simmons echoed the sentiment, but she isn’t resigned to letting her viewing lapse: “I’ll be signing up for whatever streaming carrier has it next,” she says. “But for now, I guess I’m gonna have to get the DVDs. I can’t go that long without watching it.”

Indeed, when word spread this time last year that the show’s time on the platform was winding down, Simmons was part of the chorus of reactions, sending Netflix a direct message over Twitter: “I along with thousands of others are deeply and personally hurt that you guys are taking Friends off ... How many RTs [retweets] do I need to get for you guys to leave it on?” she wrote on Dec. 3, 2018. She never received a reply. But the outcry was short-lived. Netflix opted to pay $80 million to $100 million to extend its licensing agreement through 2019.

‘Friends’
Clockwise from left: Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow.
(NBC)

“Friends,” which revolves around six twentysomethings navigating love and life in New York City, ran for 10 seasons from 1994 through 2004, becoming a pillar of NBC’s once-vaunted Thursday night prime-time lineup and making stars of its cast: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.

But while it has remained in rotation through reruns in the years since, the sitcom’s popularity has been re-energized in a noticeable way since coming to Netflix in 2015. The streaming service, which has more than 60 million subscribers in the U.S., is known for being stingy with its viewership data, but the resurgence appears to be driven by a new audience of young viewers. (Overall, more than 180 million people in the U.S. stream video through subscription services, and almost 25% of U.S. households are expected to drop traditional TV subscriptions, or “cut the cord,” by 2022, according to research firm eMarketer.)

Saul Austerlitz, author of “Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era,” says the series occupies a central place in American pop culture as much today as it did during its original run — a rare feat in an era with 500 new shows a year competing for a viewer’s attention.

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“Younger fans tend to favor Netflix; it’s their go-to place for television,” says Austerlitz, who explored the show’s Netflix-fueled resurgence in his book. “They tend to be very aware of what’s on Netflix, and anything not available on the platform often falls into a black hole.”

Streaming, he adds, serves “Friends” well: “Yes, it’s a sitcom, but it’s also a soap opera. So you can watch it in order, or you can watch your favorite episodes.”

Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the series, is keenly aware that the show has become comfort food for a new generation and that its departure from Netflix is making waves.

“The good news is it’s coming back. It’s not off [streaming] forever. Hang in there for five more months,” she says, referring to its new exclusive streaming home on HBOMax.

In the meantime, one thing is for sure, Fitch says: “Wednesday is going to feel weird.”


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