There are certainly a lot of similarities between Friends and Seinfeld, but it is difficult to determine where inspiration ends and copying begins.
Seinfeld and Friends have both gone down in history as some of the most popular sitcoms to ever air on television.
But the question remains whether the Friends creators went too far when taking inspiration from their incredibly successful predecessor.
The Seinfeld and Friends legacies
Although the television landscape has certainly changed significantly in the last few years, it has always been rare for television shows to stay on the air for long enough that their episode counts could reach triple-digits.
And yet, both Seinfeld (which ran between 1989 and 1998) and Friends (which ran between 1994 and 2004) reached and surpass this incredible milestone.
Moreover, they are both still considered some of the most popular sitcoms in the world, decades after their series finale episodes aired.
The truth about whether Friends copied Seinfeld
When Seinfeld first started airing on NBC in 1989, the show was unlike anything else on television at the time and it has often been described as “a show about nothing” which eventually garnered the attention of millions of fans.
But when Friends started airing on the same network a few years later, it was impossible to ignore some of the similarities between the two shows.
Television sitcoms like Friends often get the inspiration for their characters and plot points from somewhere.
And although a group of 20- to 30-something year-old friends living in New York City and getting involved in various hijinks is not necessarily a novel idea, the series has often been accused of taking its Seinfeld inspiration a step too far.
And while we may never know the truth about how much inspiration Friends really took from the series, we do know that Seinfeld’s co-creators, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, have blatantly accused the Friends creators, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, of ripping off their show.
Seinfeld infamously told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that he and David had thought “They want to do our show with better looking people” when they first heard about Friends, but the long-standing feud between the two shows had already started years prior.
Lisa Kudrow (who portrayed the role of Phoebe Buffay in Friends) even recalled an interaction with Seinfeld at a party in the ‘90s, in which he not-so humbly stated “You’re welcome” followed by an explanation that Friends would be airing just after Seinfeld that following summer.
He was seemingly implying that his show would help Friends’s ratings to improve. And, although Kudrow did admit that Seinfeld’s statement was probably true, these shows continue to be compared to each other to this day.
The main difference between Seinfeld and Friends
There is really no denying that the similarities between Friends and Seinfeld do not end with Monk’s Café and Central Perk, or Joey and Kramer – the unemployed neighbors, or even Naomi and Janice’s signature annoying laughs.
But for all their similarities, Friends and Seinfeld really did end up going in two totally different directions narrative-wise.
Seinfeld famously insisted g that his show would have “no hugging, no learning” and Friends later leaned into the more emotional side of things quite heavily.
Courtney Cox actually had a small role in Seinfeld before starring in Friends
While Courtney Cox is now most well known for her portrayal of Friends’s uptight, neat-freak chef, Monica Geller, she actually had a very brief guest role on Seinfeld.
Cox was first featured as Seinfeld’s girlfriend, Meryl, in the 17th episode of the show’s fifth season in 1994, which is the same year that Friends started airing.
Furthermore, according to an interview that Kudrow did with Vanity Fair in 2012, Cox actually used what she had learned from this brief stint on Seinfeld to encourage feedback between the actors on the Friends set.
Which show was more popular?
When it comes down to the shows’ viewership and ratings way-back-when, Seinfeld wins by just a hair.
The National Nielsen Viewership numbers from May 1998 confirm that Seinfeld was bringing in an average of 38.78 million viewers at the height of its popularity, whereas Friends only ever managed to bring in an average of about 34 million viewers at its height.
Of course, this has now all changed with the new modern streaming landscape, where Friends has gotten a second wind and has taken the lead over Seinfeld, as a result.