‘Friends’ Co-creator Marta Kauffman Opens Up About the Show’s Lack of Diversity

Marta Kauffman Friends
John Lamparski/Getty Images for Tribeca TV Festival;Courtesy of Everett Collection

Friends has been back in the spotlight due to the HBO Max reunion special, and while still beloved by many, there is one issue with the show that always gets people talking: the lack of diversity.

Speaking on Sunday’s episode of CNN docuseries History of the Sitcom, Designing Women actress Sheryl Lee Ralph said, “I never watched Friends because they could not possibly find a way to add anybody of color.” Throughout its run from 1994 to 2004, Friends featured six white leads, and most of the recurring guest stars were also white.

The show’s co-creator and executive producer, Marta Kauffman, also appeared in the special and directly addressed Friends‘ diversity problems. “It was, to a certain extent, a product of the time period. And of my own ignorance,” she explained. “There were black shows and there were white shows. There weren’t a lot of shows that were interracial.”

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Kauffman went on to explain that the sitcom was based on her life experiences at the time, as well as that of Friends co-creator, David Crane. “I guess at the time I was thinking, ‘This is what I know. This is what I know,'” she added.

Speaking at a virtual panel at the ATX TV Festival last year, Kauffman apologized for the show’s lack of diversity and said that she would have made very different decisions in hindsight. “I wish I knew then what I knew today,” she stated. “I would have made very different decisions. We’ve always encouraged people of diversity in our company, but I didn’t do enough.”

“Now all I can think about is what can I do, what can I do differently. How can I run my show in a new way?” the Grace & Frankie showrunner continued. “That’s something I wish I knew when I started showrunning but all the way up through last year.”

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David Schwimmer, who played Ross Geller in the sitcom, also touched on the topic in an interview with the Guardian last year. “I was well aware of the lack of diversity and I campaigned for years to have Ross date women of color,” he said. “One of the first girlfriends I had on the show was an Asian American woman, and later I dated African American women. That was a very conscious push on my part.”