“My disillusionment [with the business] had begun at my very first writing job but was momentarily staved off by a positive experience at Freaks and Geeks,” Lin writes in her upcoming memoir, End Credits: How I Broke Up with Hollywood, via an excerpt from Time. “Then came Friends.”
Lin documents her ups and downs as a TV writer in the book, revealing that her stint on season 7 of Friends from 2000 to 2001 was one of the toughest tests of her career. While she was “excited” to meet the core cast — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc — Lin quickly changed her tune.
“The novelty of seeing Big Stars up close wore off fast, along with my zeal about breakfast,” Lin confesses in her memoir, noting that table reads and the accompanying free breakfasts with the show’s leads turned sour. “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.”
Aniston, 54, revealed in a 2004 Farewell to Friends special that she almost didn’t return to the show for season 10. “I wanted it to end when people still loved us and we were on a high. And then I also was feeling like, ‘How much more of Rachel do I have in me?’” she said at the time.
Lin recalls in her book that she felt disheartened when a joke or a line was cut on the show because the actor allegedly didn’t commit to the bit — or thought they knew better.
“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,” Lin claims. “Dozens of good jokes would get thrown out just because one of them had mumbled the line through a mouthful of bacon. [Creators] David [Crane] and Marta [Kauffman] never said, ‘This joke is funny. The actor just needs to sell it.’”
Lin explains that after the table read and subsequent rewrites, the team would set up for a run-through.
“Then everyone would sit around Monica and Chandler’s apartment and discuss the script. This was the actors’ first opportunity to voice their opinions, which they did vociferously,” she reveals. “They rarely had anything positive to say, and when they brought up problems, they didn’t suggest feasible solutions. 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 run-throughs, the writers did more rewrites “and worked into the wee hours, endlessly rewriting stuff that was funny the first time,” Lin claims, pointing out that when she was hired, she made sure the creators knew she didn’t have a comedy writing background.
“I tried to contribute to the rewrites, but my strength was fixing story problems — not pitching jokes,” she writes. “Being surrounded by an elite cadre of comedy writers had eroded my self-confidence.”
Elsewhere in the book, Lin compares writing on Friends after being in the business for only two years as “going straight to the Olympics after just learning to skate.” Lin also attributes some of the team’s fatigue — in addition to the cast’s frustrations — to Friends being in its seventh season when she came on board.
“Trust me, any show that makes it to season 7 is hurting for ideas,” she quips. “Much of the time, 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.”
Friends aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004 and came to an end after 10 wildly popular seasons. Lin, who wrote for Friends only that single season, later worked on Desperate Housewives and Breaking Bad before stepping back from TV writing in 2008. Looking back, Lin reveals that she “didn’t learn that much” from working on the hit sitcom, except that she “never wanted to work on a sitcom again.”
She adds: “But the choice had been clear at the time. And, for better or worse, Friends would remain my most recognizable credit.”
End Credits hits bookshelves on Tuesday, August 29.