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Jennifer Aniston Was Almost Written Off 'Friends' in the First Season

The Big Picture Jennifer Aniston almost left Friends halfway through Season 1 due to her involvement in another sitcom, Muddling Through. Thanks to a strategic move by the Friends showrunners, involving airing Danielle Steel adaptations to attract viewers, Muddling Through failed to gain traction, allowing Aniston to stay on Friends and become a part of TV history. Muddling Through struggled from the start with a disadvantageous time slot and ultimately only lasted three months, while Friends went on for ten seasons.

Friends has been widely regarded as one of the most iconic sitcoms even years following its finale — and for good reason. A large part of Friends' appeal is its ensemble cast of oddball characters just trying to make it through life together. The friendship and relationships between the characters are a huge draw for the show, especially one of its core romances between Ross Geller and Rachel Green, played by David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, respectively.

Both actors are now household names, thanks to the popularity of the show, and Rachel Green is often cited as Aniston's breakout role. Because she is such a prominent member of the cast, it's hard to imagine Friends without her — but according to film and cinema studies professor Saul Austerlitz's 2019 book Generation Friends, the show had a close call during Season 1: they almost lost Jennifer Aniston halfway through.

Jennifer Aniston Was Stuck Between Two Different TV Shows

1994 was a busy year for Jennifer Aniston. She ended up acting for several different pilots in the hopes that something would last. After shooting five other TV pilots, she found her sitcom family with NBC's Friends as Rachel Green, but not before shooting six episodes of a completely different series. At the time, CBS was giving a chance to a new sitcom called Muddling Through, and Aniston had a prominent role as the protagonist's daughter Madeline. The show was promised six episodes, and if the ratings were on their side, they could potentially land a full season. However, Aniston ended up being one of the top picks for Friends as well, meaning she was stuck between the two shows.

If Muddling Through managed to… well, muddle through and get its first season greenlit, then Aniston wouldn't be able to participate in the filming of Friends after the first half of the season. Rachel Green would either have to be written out of the show or replaced with a different actress, neither of which were ideal options. Aniston was the Friends showrunners' top pick for the role of Rachel Green, so her ties to Muddling Through put them in a tough spot.

One of the most important parts of getting good ratings is to earn viewers in the first place. Scheduling-wise, Muddling Through had to secure a good date and time to air so that people would actually tune in for the show. Well, Muddling Through aired its first episode — in the summer, on a Saturday night. With a date and time when so few people would be tuning in, Muddling Through was disadvantaged from the start. Nonetheless, they could still hurt NBC's up-and-coming hit by depriving them of one of their lead actors. If the show became any more popular, Aniston would have to back out of Friends in order to continue with Muddling Through.

The uncertainty got to a point where Aniston had to sit out some of Friends' early photoshoots. If it turned out she wouldn't be able to continue on the show, Friends had to have official images that didn't include her — a sad thought, but unfortunately a necessary precaution. It's hard to imagine any type of Friends media without Rachel: just thinking of her cut out of the series' iconic intro leaves a bad taste in the mouth. NBC and CBS, however, seemed to not be above attempts to sabotage each other's shows. Even if Muddling Through never made it past the first season, taking Aniston away from Friends would be more than an annoyance, and that would be a win for CBS.

What Is 'Muddling Through' About?

Muddling Through, created by producer Barton Dean, follows the story of Connie Drego ( Stephanie Hodge), an ex-convict who's trying to get her life back on track. She spends a few years in prison after attacking her ex-husband Sonny ( D. David Morin) and now works at her family's motel and diner in an attempt to build a better life for herself. Connie isn't alone in her plight, though; she's joined by her two daughters: the eldest, Madeline (Aniston), who is now married to the cop who arrested her mother, named Duane ( Scott Waara), as well as the youngest, Kerri ( Aimee Brooks). The show also had a gallery of supporting and recurring cast members ready to go on the chance that it was picked up for a full season.

The show certainly had an interesting premise, but it lacked the sheer amount of episodic potential that Friends had, making the NBC show an unfortunate rival for Muddling Through. Because both series wanted Aniston, and Muddling Through succeeded in getting her, the show may not have gotten off the ground, but it still presented a unique challenge for Friends at the outset.

How Did 'Friends' Win Over Jennifer Aniston in the End?

Stuck with their competition, the Friends showrunners came up with a strategy to ensure that Muddling Through never got their Season 1. There wasn't anything they could do to influence CBS's decisions, but, thanks to strategist Preston Beckman, there was a way to tip the scale in their favor. What if Muddling Through's already-undesirable time slot had steep competition?

Beckman's plan was simple but effective. When Muddling Through was airing that summer, NBC started airing a line of TV movies, all of which were Danielle Steel adaptations. As a prominent romance author and a #1 New York Times bestseller, Steel already had a large following of fans, ensuring a substantial female viewer base for the time slot — all of whom would now be tuning in to NBC on summer Saturdays. Which would be more enticing, after all? A little-known brand-new TV series airing on a Saturday night in the summer months, or a line of films with familiar stories adapted from a respected and established author's work?

Muddling Through didn't stand much of a chance, premiering in July 1994 and only continuing through to its tenth episode later that September, leaving the eleventh episode unaired when the show was canceled. Muddling Through barely lasted three months, and Friends aired for ten seasons and as many years, with reruns still playing as we speak. Muddling Through may have gotten their first pick with Jennifer Aniston, but Friends certainly had the last laugh. Thanks to the strategic thinking of Beckman and the lineup of Danielle Steel adaptations (of all things), Friends was able to keep the iconic character of Rachel Green without recasting. They didn't need to bother taking photos without Aniston — she stayed for all ten seasons and became part of one of the most iconic couples in TV history.

It was a close call, and it took the sacrifice of another show, but Friends ended up being Aniston's breakout role, launching her career and investing millions of viewers in the lives of six friends in New York just trying to figure themselves out.

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