Friends featured plenty of hookups and raunchy moments, but according to the creators’ interviews with CNN anniversary special Friends Forever: 25 Years of Laughter, NBC took some issue with the sitcom’s thirstier content.
The pilot episode of Friends features Monica (Courteney Cox) on a “not date” date with “Paul the Wine Guy” (John Allen Nelson). During the date, Paul explains that since his divorce, he’s been unable to perform sexually in bed. When Monica seduces him, she’s thrilled — until her co-worker informs Monica that Paul pulled the same line on her.
"Monica sleeps with a guy on a first date, someone she's crazy about...he tells her a falsehood, that makes her fall for him,” co-creator Marta Kauffman explained on the anniversary special. “NBC was very concerned. They handed out a survey to the audience that was so skewed. 'Do you think Monica is a) a slut, b) a whore, c) easy, d) all over the above, for sleeping with a guy on a first date.'”
Kauffman said that while the network was worried about Monica’s reputation, the audience wasn’t judging the chef at all. (Nor should they have been — would this ever be a thing if it was Matt LeBlanc’s Joey getting it on during the first date?)
“Nobody cared! Nobody checked those boxes, they didn't care,” Kauffman said, explaining that it was a good thing, considering the story was personal. “I hate to admit this but Monica's experience in the pilot was an experience I had with a guy in college."
That wasn’t the only time that NBC was concerned about coming across too raunchy. It was a constant battle with standards and practices over what words Friends could use in their episode, and what they couldn’t.
“We would have these debates where they would be like ‘Okay, you can say penis once, but you have it three times,’ and we were like ‘Alright, we’ll give you two penises, if we can say this somewhere else in the script,’” explained co-creator David Crane.
Such S&P issues directly influenced one piece of dialogue from season 1. In the episode “The One With the Boobies,” Chandler (Matthew Perry) walks in on Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) as she’s getting out of the shower.
“We’re suddenly being told we can’t use the word nipple,” said Kauffman of a scene. “So we came up with the word ‘nipular.’”
In the scene, Rachel grabs a blanket to cover herself, but Chandler says that the blanket has “a relatively open weave,” and therefore he can still see Rachel’s “nipular area.”
Friends pushing boundaries may have made it easier for other shows to say penis to their heart’s content. However, if “nipular area” ever makes it into the dictionary, we’ll know the true power of this iconic sitcom.