The one where former “Friends” writer Patty Lin reveals that the sitcom’s writers room wasn’t so friendly.
Lin thought it was too good to be true when her agent told her the “Friends” team wanted to meet with her. And according to an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, “End Credits: How I Broke Up With Hollywood,” published Monday by Time, the former TV writer may have been right.
Her former “Freaks and Geeks” boss, Judd Apatow, apparently tried to warn her about taking the job, despite vouching for her during the interview process. He didn’t think she could learn much from the experience. “The show’s been on for what? Six seasons? It’s a well-oiled machine,” he told her.
Created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane, the NBC hit comedy about a group of tight-knit friends who were more like family was an instant smash when it premiered in 1994, and has remained one of TV’s most beloved shows since it left the air in 2004 after 10 seasons.
But Lin only had two years of experience and felt that joining “Friends” seemed equivalent to going “straight to the Olympics after just learning to skate.” She worried failure could put her career at stake and wasn’t sure what she had to offer the comedy as a writer. “I’m not a joke writer,” she told her agent.
“They don’t need another joke writer. They want someone who’s good with story and character,” he reassured her.
“What made the situation even more uncomfortable was that NBC had just launched a diversity program, a sort of voluntary affirmative action,” Lin wrote. “The network was making efforts to hire more writers of color. On principle, I support affirmative action policies because I believe overcoming institutional racism without it is impossible. But in practice? It’s a major mindf—.”
Lin wasn’t sure whether she was landing the gig because she was right for the job or because of the diversity program. “But dwelling on that question wasn’t going to help my career.”
According to Lin, she joined the writers room in July 2000; the staff had 14 writers, five of whom were women and only one of whom was a minority: Lin. The days were typically 12 hours long but often stretched well into the wee hours of the morning.
Lin described the hours and the pressure to deliver as “brutal” and wrote that “David, an impossible-to-please workaholic, was always looking for a better line or joke.”
“Marta was the Oscar Madison to David’s Felix Unger. She had a booming voice and a laugh that could rattle windows. She would kick her bare feet up on the conference table and do needlepoint while we worked,” Lin continued. “An outspoken liberal, Marta took the diversity program seriously, and I suspected she had more to do with hiring me than David did.”
Lin said the writers room was like “an endless cocktail party where we had run out of polite things to talk about. And so we talked about sex. Constantly.” She wrote that the novelty of seeing the stars of the show — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and David Schwimmer — up close during table reads wore off fast.
“The actors seemed unhappy to be chained to a tired old show when they could be branching out, and I felt like they were constantly wondering how every given script would specifically serve them,” she wrote. “They all knew how to get a laugh, but if they didn’t like a joke, they seemed to deliberately tank it, knowing we’d rewrite it.”
According to Lin, the cast would discuss the script while hanging out in Monica and Chandler’s apartment, but the stars of the show rarely had anything positive to say. “Seeing themselves as guardians of their characters, they often argued that they would never do or say such-and-such. That was occasionally helpful, but overall, these sessions had a dire, aggressive quality that lacked all the levity you’d expect from the making of a sitcom.”
After a single season of feeling like the nerdy kid at the popular kids’ table in the writers room of ”Friends” — and only one of Lin’s jokes making it into the show (which her boyfriend wrote, not her) — Lin was relieved when her agent got the call that her option would not be renewed. She went on to write for “Desperate Housewives” and “Breaking Bad” but ultimately retired from TV writing entirely in 2008.
“End Credits” details her time in the industry and will hit bookstore shelves Aug. 28.