'Friends' bids a graceful farewell

MUMBAI: As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Even Friends. One of the shows that gave a major boost to the sitcom genre, Friends has closed the books after charming the world for ten years.

Yesterday, the final episode aired on NBC.

The happy news for fans was that Ross and Rachel played by David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston got back together. In the final scene the six friends gave up their key to Monica and Chandler's apartment.

NBC estimates that around 45 million people saw the final episode. However, those who missed out need not fret. The DVD of the season will be out in a few days with plenty of juicy extras.

One of NBC's publicity stunts was in New York. The finale was beamed on a big screen in Times Square. It got an audience of around 3,000.

Still, the 45-million projected figure is nowhere near the record set by M-A-S-H in 1983. Its 2 1/2-hour send-off that was seen by nearly 106 million viewers still stands as the most watched US telecast ever. The last Cheers episode was seen by 80.4 million people in 1993 and Seinfeld had 76.2 million for its 1998 conclusion.

The final episode had been filmed in January under a heavy veil of secrecy. The broadcaster did an excellent job in making sure that the story was kept under wraps. It charged advertisers $ 2 million per 30 second spot for the finale.

At the end of the show Monica and Chandler have a pleasant surprise when she delivers twins. Phoebe, played by Lisa Kudrow, was already married, and Joey headed west to get serious about his acting career. In fact Matt LeBlanc who plays the character will have his own show. Joey has the unenviable and perhaps impossible task of trying to sustain the enthusiasm and global following that Friends was able to build.

The question now is what happens to the sitcom genre. Sex And The City wrapped up on HBO recently. Frasier comes to a close next week. Ray Romano is also hesistant about returning to CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond after the current season.

Compounding the problem is a Newsweek report which bluntly puts forth the suggestion that the sitcom is dying. New shows like Its All Relative and Two and a Half Men could be considered as mere variations on Everybody Loves Raymond. There does not seem to be any effort to go past the stereotypes of the American family. Executives are apparently fixated on the notion of merely having the audience laugh every three seconds.

What the networks seem to be missing sight of is the fact that in 1994 the concept of a show like Friends was unique. There wasn't a show at that time on the airwaves which focussed on 20 -year-olds living single in Manhattan In fact at that time it had been felt be network executives that another character would be needed like an older character or a cop on the beat or the guy who owns the coffee shop who gives the friends advice.

If the Newsweek prediction does come true, it will be real pity. For now though, one can only live on the hope that somewhere out there the next great sitcom is waiting to be born.

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