Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Analysis of Friends (1994-2004)

An entire generation grew up watching the hit TV show Friends, aside from its attractive and hilarious cast, the show had many ground-breaking aspects that drew in viewers. The writing of the show stayed fresh and fun, because of constant re-writes of jokes and use of attention-grabbing dialogue. The extreme attention to detail in all aspects of production including camera work, set decoration, lighting, and sound contributed to the high quality of the sitcom.  But most of all, the creation of the six relatable characters is what appealed to a wide audience. 
Friends reached its peak of popularity in the late 1990’s, and continued to be a frequently watched show into the twenty first century. The TV show’s creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane had the number one network sitcom for years. Consistently, reruns have also had high ratings. With thirty-one million viewers tuning in on September 13, 2001, the show served as a visual comfort food for Americans (Chidester, 2008).  
The show enjoyed both commercial and critical success while on the air. In his article written for the Critical Studies in Media Communication, about the “whiteness” of the TV show Friends, Phil Chidester states, “During its first four years of production, the sitcom received some twenty-seven Emmy and three Golden Globe nominations, a Screen Actors Guild Award in 1996 for ‘Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Series,’ and three People’s Choice Awards” (Chidester, 2008).
A Friends special entitled “The One that Goes Behind the Scenes” was produced in 1999. This forty-two minute long segment goes behind the scenes of the show and analyses the first episode of season six: “The One After Vegas.” At that time, Friends had an average of twenty four million viewers every week. This segment gave an extensive look at what the crew went through to put the pieces of the show together after the summer hiatus (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
Marta Kauffman and David Crane explained how they met in college and wrote musicals together, but they weren’t making any money at it. So, they began writing TV scripts together and created the show Dream On which did well on HBO and ran for six seasons from 1990 until 1996. This success on cable opened the door to the networks, and together with their partner, Kevin S. Bright, Friends was up and running by 1994. Bright, who directed many of the episodes of Friends believes there are two necessities for working in half hour comedy which are speed and good shoes (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
The art department used pictures taken of the sets from previous seasons to help redress the sets, making sure everything was in its proper place. However, the art department had an added challenge, because they couldn’t know exactly what the set would look like until the script was finalized which was often not until the last minute. The sets had to be reassembled and dressed, and all of the pieces of the standing sets had to be put back together. This task included the props which are anything an actor touches. Majorie Coster-Praytor, the shows’ Property Master, explained the importance of props on the show citing how there were six of Phoebe’s Doll Houses made since it caught on fire during the episode it was used in (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
The Gaffers have the job of making sure that each part of the scene is uniformly lit. Since sitcoms are shot using multiple cameras; Friends typically used four cameras and sometimes even five, the uniform lighting was an important aspect. Numbered tape marks were placed on the floors of the set to show which camera went where for camera blocking (Enright, Alexander, 1999). 
The writers were very involved in every stage of production on Friends, since the script was constantly changing. During the production meetings props, costumes, and make-up were discussed as the crew went through the script. When rehearsals with the actors began for an episode, the script was tightened further. The script supervisor also timed the show with a stop watch to tell the writers how much more trimming needed to be made to the script during rehearsals. The writers were also present to watch the performance of the actors and decide which of the lines read funny or fell flat. Adam Chase, an executive producer of Friends believes that television is a writer’s medium, and that writers must be smart, funny and willing to work crazy hours. (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
With the popularity of Friends and its stars being what it was, the live audience that came to watch the taping of the show created an atmosphere to rival Beatle mania. It typically took the cast and crew about five hours to shoot one episode of Friends. Set changes would take as long as twenty minutes, so a comedian entertained the live audience in between takes. Also re-writing was constantly being done between takes to determine whether or not a joke worked, and sometimes the live audience was even asked for input. Filming in front of a live audience was much like live theater and the actors often play off of the audience members’ energy (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
The final cut of the episode “The One After Vegas,” included fifty-two takes of fourteen scenes, which amounted to thirty thousand feet of film and twelve hours of footage to be edited. At times, the editor had to bring down the audience’s laugh and put in shorter laughter so it didn’t cover up the actor’s next line. After three days of editing, the show’s producers looked at a rough cut and took notes. Then, Bright worked with the editor to make changes to trim the show down to the exact length of twenty two minutes (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
The audio for Friends was re-dubbed on a Foley stage to recreate sound effects. The Foley artists, Mike and Casey Crabtree, got into character and became another person while using various objects to make sounds. The Music Editor of the show, Merelyn Davis decided where to put music in an episode. Each show wasn’t scored, but a bulk of music was received each season to use. Davis picked the music that fit the mood and situation for the episode’s twenty cues, which were each three seconds long. Finally, once all the different sound elements had come together, the proper volume levels were set and any hiss or frequency was edited out of the final mix (Enright, Alexander, 1999).
Marta Kauffman, along with her other producers and cast were leery of calling Friends a “Generation X” show, meaning that it was made for viewers born after the Baby Boomer generation. Kauffman, who is a Baby Boomer herself, believes that what the characters are experiencing on the show is universal. One of the main reasons that the show appealed to a large demographic age group is because the characters are easy to relate to. On the surface, they may seem like a stereotype, but they prove to be deeper than that. The characters care about each other, which makes the audience care about them. Friends was the first show to prove that a show about young people, for young people doesn’t have to be stupid (Owen, 1997).
The producers of the show try to have three storylines per episode going unlike most sitcoms which have two. Therefore, Friends has more scenes which are shorter in length while still maintaining interest by using the ensemble of actors to their fullest capacity. Kauffman and her producers stay away from teaching morals and lessons, and instead focus on realism for the show’s storylines. This is the reason that Friends is a serialized show and has continuing storylines (Owen, 1997).
Friends tells you what the show is about in its title name, and many sitcoms do now revolve around the lives of friends, but it wasn’t always that way. Sitcoms used to be about family, but during the last twenty years a shift has taken place. TV shows of today often focus on friend groupings who hang out at work, cafés, and apartments. The humor is based on wit and situational comedy coming from characters that have close relationships and see each other frequently (Brooks, 2010).
This change says something more meaningful about the differences of American friendships in today’s world. Young people are now spending a longer period living outside of a traditional family, often waiting until their thirties to marry and have children. This has caused young people to form friendship groups who often live together. These friendships, which are often deep and complicated, are the basis for great comedy. Sitcoms focused on friendships also appeal to a middle-aged audience who enjoy watching the characters participate in intimate connection with friends, which they have often had to sacrifice in their own lives. Comedy TV shows celebrate individual relationships within a complex group of people rather than just a one on one friendship. These friendships create differing types of social problems within the group because of their complicated nature (Brooks, 2010).
Friends helped change the face of television. A series with six twenty-something’s as the main characters, intensified an already growing interest in attracting a younger demographic. Advertisers saw Friends as the embodiment of a wrinkle-free series that could transfix viewers ages eighteen to forty-nine (Berman, 2004).
Since Friends was so successful, every network looked for its own imitation. These “clones” included The Single Guy, Central Park West, Dweebs, Caroline and the City, First Time Out, Simon, Union Square, Jesse, The Crew, Partners, Too Something, New York Daze, The Last Frontier,  Inside Schwartz, Townies, Guys Like Us, and Can't Hurry Love. Out of all of them, the only show that didn’t flop was Caroline in the City, mostly due to its time slot (Owen, 1997 and Berman, 2004).
Young adults became a more important demographic than ever before, regardless of all the unsuccessful Friends TV show clones. The achievements of the “golden six” still notified advertisers they should pursue the young adult audience no matter what. While it is a memorable fact that hair stylists in America tribute the sitcom with altering the hairstyles of women, the TV show Friends was influential in changing the way television is sold to advertisers (Berman, 2004).
Another aspect of Friends, that made the sitcom innovative, was the linguistics of the show. Sali Tagliamonte and Chris Roberts used eight seasons worth of scripts to analyze the character’s dialogue. According to them, the viewers had “absorbed Friendspeak like a sponge.” Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe were young middle-class characters living in New York City, who pushed the borders of the United States’ lingo. The language of the show could have taken credit for the show’s popularity since young viewers wanted to be funky and cool just like the characters. Friends' used many intensifiers, words such as “really,” “very” or “so” that are used to get a listener's attention. New attention grabbers were used during the series to keep the language from going stale (Tagliamonte, Roberts, 2005).
The hip use of “so,” has been proven to increase in popularity since being said frequently on the show. The intensifier “so” was compared with ratings and some startling outcomes were found. As Friends jumped from fourth to second place on American television in the year 1998, it’s characters were saying “so” more often than ever before on the show. A fall in using the word “so” on the show, mirrored a fall in Friends’ ratings, which proves the notion that intensifiers are implemented to grab attention and that viewers are lost when they aren’t used. Friends pioneered the use of the word “so” and used it more frequently than people did in their daily lives, paving the way for its pervasive implementation in the real world. Friends seems to have cultivated a grammatical change, not just a fad. Friends’ use of “so” didn’t track a typical guide but ebbed and flowed with the show’s ratings. When the show used the intensifier “so” the most, the ratings were at their highest (Tagliamonte, Roberts, 2005).
Friends’ lingo can provides a tip for sitcom writers; give the best lines to women. Apparently, females realize more quickly what is trendy than males. Linguistic change is employed by women perhaps because they pass it on to their children. They may be superior communicators to men or may use advanced language for gender discrimination compensation purposes. This may explain why Monica, Phoebe and Rachel used “so” as an intensifier a lot more than Ross, Chandler and Joey (Tagliamonte, Roberts, 2005).
In Phil Chidester’s article, May the Circle Stay Unbroken: Friends, the Presence of Absence, and the Rhetorical Reinforcement of Whiteness, he shares his reasoning as to how the TV show Friends maintains white exclusivity.
“I contend that Friends incorporates the closed circle as a core visual metaphor to represent whiteness as a marker of privilege, and that it does so in two crucial ways. First, the sitcom reinforces whiteness’s exclusive freedom to convert its public spaces to private ones; and second, it argues for whiteness’s continued right (and concurrent responsibility) to maintain its core sense of purity against racial outsiders by limiting and regulating contacts with the racialized Other. This process refuses to acknowledge the very real outcomes that accrue to racial difference in contemporary American society” (Chidester, 2008).
A closed circle is created amongst the characters of Friends visually because of the way they are situated in the furniture on the sets. In Central Perk, and the two apartments that the characters regularly hang out at, there is an exclusivity created by the nature of the physical set up. White exclusivity is maintained by not letting any characters of other races into the literal circle of friends (Chidester, 2008).
Ross is the only character who brings in people of other races into the show. These people are women that he is dating. Firstly he dates Julie, an Asian- American woman and then late in the series, Charlie, an African-American woman. Rachael dislikes Julie, presumably because she is jealous of Julie’s romantic relationship with Ross. Julie goes out of her way to be nice to Rachael, but after Julie exits one scene Rachael calls her a “manipulative bitch” under her breath. Both Julie and Charlie interact with the other regulars of the show, but are never included in the entire sextet of friends at one time. The characters seem to consciously avoid the subject of race and there is never any comment made about neither Charlie nor Julie’s race. Additionally, both Charlie and Julie have Americanized names and appear to have no cultural ties to their ethnic backgrounds (Chidester, 2008).  
Joey Tribiani is the only regular character who exhibits ethnic characteristics, yet he is still a stereotypical Italian. Being “not quite white”, he is portrayed as having low sexual morals, social awkwardness, and not enough intelligence to hold down a job (Chidester, 2008).
Critique of the show’s predominant whiteness raises a valid point that perhaps the show’s producers should have tackled the subject of race and incorporated more racial diversity into the series. However, this point cannot discredit the innovation and success of the show overall. A sitcom is not the right place to have conversations about race; it wouldn’t have fit in with the overall light hearted tone of the show. The appeal of the characters on Friends stems from the viewers’ ability to identify with them regardless of their race or gender.  As a situational comedy, Friends proved to have a high quality production value and was very well written. This is perhaps because of the use of intensifiers which maintained viewers’ attention and the constant re-writes of the script that occurred throughout the production of each episode. With two-hundred-thirty-six hilarious episodes, spanning over ten seasons, from 1994 to 2004, Friends will surely go down in history as a revolutionary sitcom.

Berman, Marc. "To Be Young Again." MediaWeek 14.18 (2004): 30. Communication &
Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.

Brooks, David.  "The Flock Comedies :[Op-Ed]. " New York Times 22 Oct. 2010, Late
Edition (East Coast): New York Times, ProQuest. Web.  27 Mar. 2011.

Chidester, Phil. "May the Circle Stay Unbroken: Friends, the Presence of Absence, and
the Rhetorical Reinforcement of Whiteness." Critical Studies in Media
Communication 25.2 (2008): 157-174. Communication & Mass Media Complete.
EBSCO. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.

Enright, Don and Alexander, Les. The One that Goes Behind the Scenes. Present
Tense Productions. DVD. 1999.

Owen, Rob. Gen X TV The Brady Bunch to Melrose Place. Ed. Thompson, Robert J. New
York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. Print.

Tagliamonte, Sali, and Chris Roberts. “So Weird; So Cool; So Innovative: The Use of
Intensifiers In the televisions series Friends.” American Speech 80.3 (2005): 280-300. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Mar. 2011.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Youth Oriented Films; The Graduate (1967) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

The Graduate was an American film released during one of the most chaotic times in U.S. history; 1967. Much warfare was occurring overseas in Vietnam, in the streets of American cities, and on college campuses.  The youth was as rebellious as ever, yearning to distance themselves from their parents who came from a materialistic generation (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s. Wikipedia, 1967 in the United States). Twelve years earlier in 1955, a film entitled Rebel Without a Cause was released, although it was a much simpler time, the film also addressed the unrest of youth. Both the male lead characters in The Graduate and Rebel Without a Cause struggled with the generation gap that had formed and felt misunderstood by the older generation (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s. Frost, Social issues, problem pictures of the 50’s). 
1955 was a much more innocent and less complicated time than 1967 in America. 1955 was the year that Disneyland opened, the Mickey Mouse Club aired on TV, and Elvis made his debut. Racial segregation had ended on trains and buses, yet the arrest of Rosa Parks occurred when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white person. This incident began the national civil rights movement in America, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forming the Montgomery Improvement Association in Alabama to boycott city buses. With positive things happening in the pop culture scene with the help of Disney and racial oppression beginning to subside, James Dean’s tragic death via car accident must have come as quite a shock to the American public (Wikipedia, 1955 in the United States).
Rebel Without a Cause was a film with a surprisingly dark tone, considering the seemingly innocent time period in which it was released (Wikipedia, Rebel without a Cause). Perhaps the reason that Rebel Without a Cause resonated with audiences is because social unrest lay beneath the squeaky clean suburban lifestyle. There was a strain put on the unification of families when they were moved to the suburbs and the generation gap began (Frost, Social issues, problem pictures of the 50’s). Rebel Without a Cause’s main character, Jim Stark, was a suburban, middle class rebellious teen portrayed by James Dean. The film was released just shy of one month after Dean’s fatal car accident caused by his reckless driving. This suggests that Dean shared a commonality with his character Jim that he portrayed (Wikipedia, Rebel without a Cause).
While Rebel Without a Cause was released just prior to the beginnings of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, The Graduate was filmed and released in the throws of it and other vastly more turbulent times in America. 1967, the year of The Graduate’s release, was a time that many American lives were lost in the battles of the Vietnam War. This prompted protests on college campuses and in the streets of big cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s. Wikipedia, 1967 in the United States). Yet, President Johnson was still trying to convince the public, that American soldiers were making progress in Vietnam (Wikipedia, 1967 in the United States). Meanwhile in Haight Ashbury, flower power was occurring with hippies protesting “make love, not war”, turning onto drugs and dropping out of society. Whereas the generation gap was a pressing issue in the 1950’s, by the late 60’s, the generation gap exploded, with youth growing out their hair to rebel against the system (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s. Frost, Social issues, problem pictures of the 50’s). 
In addition to the Vietnam War, there was violence and destruction occurring on home turf because of race riots in America. These riots occurred in Tampa, Minneapolis, Detroit, Newark, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C, destroying buildings and claiming lives in 1967. Juxtaposing this violence were triumphs for African Americans including Thurgood Marshall becoming the first black Justice of the Supreme Court and Carl B. Stokes becoming the first black mayor of a major U.S. city in Cleveland, Ohio. Additionally, the ban on interracial marriage was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. (Wikipedia, 1967 in the United States).
There was also much activity regarding outer space in 1967, including the signing of a treaty by the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom, banning nuclear weapons in outer space.  In the music scene, the Beatles, released an eleven track album entitled Magical Mystery Tour with new songs such as “All You Need is Love,” “Penny Lane,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” (Wikipedia, 1967 in the United States). For Americans, 1967 was a much more tumultuous time than the innocence of the 1950’s. Therefore this makes the release of Rebel without a Cause in 1955 more controversial than 1967’s The Graduate.  
What was interesting about The Graduate perhaps is that is wasn’t about Vietnam. “What I heard the most from college students was, over and over and over and over, 'Why isn't it about Vietnam?'” remembers the film’s director, Mike Nichols. “Because that was the fashionable topic, that was the topic that showed what a serious person you were and how deeply involved, and to make a movie that was for young people and was not about Vietnam actually affronted them” (AMC Blog, 2008). 
Screenwriter Buck Henry, producer Larry Truman, and director Mike Nichols all wanted to make the film because they identified with the main character, Benjamin Braddock. They and their peers had experienced the same things as Benjamin at his age and felt the need to “get away.” Henry claims that they made the film because it was something that they all understood. (AMC Blog, 2008).
Nichols recalled that at a test screening of the film in New York City, the audience got out of their seats and started yelling when Benjamin beat Mr. Robinson with a cross in the church scene near the end of the film. This frightened and stunned both Nichols and Dustin Hoffman who portrayed Benjamin in the film. Hoffman was sitting in the balcony of the theater during the screening and came out of the theater white as a sheet according to Nichols (AMC Blog, 2008).
“We didn't understand what had happened, because it had hit some wind that was circling the Earth, something that nobody could have predicted, and just been lifted beyond what we ever could have imagined…It was some cultural thing that just exploded as a result of the film, but it was, of course, like all cultural things, already happening,” said Nichols (AMC Blog, 2008).
The character Benjamin is shown to be symbolically drowning in several scenes in the film. Towards the beginning of the film, he is seen with his head resting against a fish tank in his bedroom. He looks like he is already under water, then he is convinced to go downstairs to join the graduation party his parents are throwing for him. Benjamin is shot in mostly close-ups in this scene and appears to be “swimming” through the guests as he is bombarded with questions and congratulations. Later in the film, Benjamin uses the pool in his backyard as means to escape from his parents and their friends. But, when he is forced by his father and mother to show off his 21st Birthday present, a diving suit, the viewer sees Benjamin’s point of view and then the camera switches to an objective point of view as it pulls back, and Benjamin is shown at the bottom of the pool progressively growing smaller. Again, the imagery of drowning is used to symbolize Benjamin’s inability to escape from the values of the subculture, being his parent’s materialistic generation (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s).
Similarly the main character Jim in Rebel Without a Cause is victimized by repressive social circumstances involving marriage, occupation and the generation gap. Both Jim and Benjamin are misunderstood by their parents, and both disagree with their parent’s way of life. Whereas Benjamin is trapped by the social conditions of the world he lives in, Jim is portrayed as having an isolated and insecure condition. This isolation is shown visually by director Nicholas Ray in using the lonely planetarium during the film Rebel Without a Cause (Frost, Social issues, problem pictures of the 50’s).
Another similarity between Jim and Benjamin concerns color. In Rebel Without a Cause Jim wore the iconic red jacket which symbolized blood, danger, sexuality, and violence. Benjamin wore a lot of white and black toward the beginning of The Graduate. This told the audience that he fit into the world of his parents and his affair with Mrs. Robinson. The liaison is encased in his parent’s world which explains why the relationship with Mrs. Robinson is meaningless to Benjamin. Nichols showed sex as destructive and love as constructive, because Benjamin’s attitude completely changes once he starts dating Mrs. Robinson’s daughter Elaine. When he falls in love with Elaine and starts to break free from Mrs. Robinson and his parent’s world, he wears clothing with warmer tones. The filmmakers also told the audience about Mrs. Robinson’s character from her clothing by dressing her in various animal prints. This animalistic garb tells the viewer that Mrs. Robinson is dangerous, fierce, wild, and it also carries other risqué sexual connotations (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s).
The music in The Graduate was innovative because it used music from Simon and Garfunkel that wasn’t created specifically for the film.  Yet the lyrics go perfectly with the film’s storyline and often reflect what Benjamin is feeling. The songs are integrated into the plot of the affair and comment on the character’s relationship to their environment. This is done perfectly in the opening of The Graduate in which Benjamin arrives at the LAX airport to return to his parent’s house upon graduating college. “The Sound of Silence” plays as Benjamin looks deflated while traveling through the airport (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s).
The Graduate is a time capsule movie that is thematic and not a heavy protest film. Just like Rebel without a Cause spawned many teen exploitation films, there were many youth oriented films to follow The Graduate and a new era of creativity was born. It is therefore not surprising that The Graduate is number seven on AFI’s list of Films of the Century, and was also nominated for seven Academy Awards winning Mike Nichols Best Director at the 1968 Oscar’s (Frost, Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s). The Graduate had artistic production and addressed heavy topics such as the generation gap, sexuality, and conformity. Perhaps this is why it was well received during a controversial and unstable time in America can still hold its own today.


1955 in the United States.” Wikipedia. Web. 3 May 2011.  <>

1967 in the United States.” Wikipedia. Web. 3 May 2011. <>

AMC Blog. “The Graduate and the Generation Gap.” Ed. Abbey, Cory, Cline, Elizabeth, Harlin,  Tayt. 2008. Web. 3 May 2011. <>

Frost, Jacqueline. “Angst out Youth in the Late 60’s”. Cal State Fullerton. 3 March 2011. Lecture. 

Frost, Jacqueline. “Social issues, problem pictures of the 50’s.” Cal State Fullerton. 3 February, 2011. Lecture.

“Rebel Without a Cause.” Wikipedia. Web. 3 May 2011. <>


Friday, May 6, 2011

Osama and Obama

Monday Morning, sitting in my American Pop Culture Class, the first thing my instructor Brande Jackson brought up was the killing of Osama bin Laden. The floor opened for discussion and the first mention of what the implications of Osama's death meant is that it will be great for Obama's reelection. This point was reiterated further when, later that morning, I picked up the Daily Titan to look at the striking image on the cover. Whoever had the idea to "Hope-ify" an image of Osama to resemble the Obama "Hope" image, created by Shepard Fairey related the news of Osama's death to Obama's reelection in a heartbeat as well. All politics aside, it is certainly a powerful and politically charged image and can be interpreted many ways. I simply find this conversation very interesting.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Sorry Harry...

You know that I love you...but...I loathe this screen cap that keeps cropping up everywhere, I know that fighting Voldemort must be tough, but that doesn't mean you have to make Old Man Cartoon Faces, you look like Carl from UP...just sayin'...