Like "Seinfeld" and "The Big Bang Theory," "Friends" seems like it's always on TV somewhere, and as with both of those series, it's impossible to keep changing channels when you land on one of your favorite "Friends" installments, no matter how many times you've seen it.
But fans who haven't allotted some space on their home entertainment shelf for the Central Perk gang should consider doing so with this week's release of "Friends: The Complete Series Blu-ray" (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment), a collection of all 10 seasons (236 episodes) of the Emmy-winning hit from NBC's must-see-TV years.
We're not likely to be seeing the "Friends" gang hanging out together again anytime soon. Series producer and director Kevin S. Bright tells TVGuide.com, "There is absolutely, 100 percent no talk about a reunion. Maybe they'll find a reason one day, and obviously the reason can't be about money and things like that. Other than that, I don't think there is a reason to do it. There will be no 'Friends' movie. It was made to be an intimate show in your living room … It's wonderful the way it is, but it's even better on Blu-ray!"
And he makes a good sales pitch for the Blu-ray set. The episodes have been completely remastered in 1080p high-definition video for a 16 by 9 widescreen format, meaning Chandler's trademark sweater vests and the yellow frame around Monica and Rachel's door look their best and brightest.
The sound: a fine Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, all the better to hear the infectious Rembrandts theme song, "I'll Be There for You," with.
And then there are the extras, which make the "Friends" Blu-ray set a true must-own-DVD collection. The set is packaged in a gorgeous lenticular box that shows the "Friends" stars when the series debuted in 1994 and, with a slight shift of the box, as they looked when it ended in May 2004. Inside, a hardcover book houses the 21 discs, and a 32-page episode guide is packed with color photos (including a two-page version of the iconic photo of the "Friends" sipping on milk shakes).
The Blu-ray set also offers all the original bonus features from the individual season DVD releases, including 31 episode commentaries, documentaries on "Friends" style and the show's global fan base, and gag reels. And among the more than three hours of new extras, the Blu-ray set features "True Friends: Documentaries," a set of retrospectives on casting the show, the "Friends" writers, and the show's pop culture influence; a never-before-seen gag reel originally made for the cast and crew; and the original producer's cut and script for "The One Where Rachel Tells Ross."
Most of all, the "Friends" Blu-ray set is a chance to own the complete lineup of the show so many of us still love and to revisit the characters we got to know so well that they often felt like real friends, from roomies Monica and Rachel and Joey and Chandler to the quirky Phoebe, the endearingly annoying Ross, and the guy often referred to as the "seventh Friend": Central Park manager Gunther (James Michael Tyler).
He of the shockingly white hair and wardrobe of colorful ties started on the show as a background character who didn't even have a name. Through brief interactions that increased with frequency in the show's second season, he got a name, an obsessive crush on Rachel, and even a backstory -- like Joey, Gunther had been a daytime soap star (who, also like Joey, had been killed off on his show).
In honor of this week's Blu-ray box set, Yahoo! TV chatted with Tyler about the unusual way he landed his "Friends" role, the story behind his bleached-blond 'do, and his suggestion for Gunther's last name.
How did the role come about? Is it true you were hired to play Gunther because you knew how to work the cappuccino machine?
I didn't actually audition for it. So, this is the story, because I know it's been kind of convoluted over time and on the Internet … I moved to Los Angeles in 1988, from the University of Georgia, with a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting. I moved here with some friends, and I had several different types of jobs, but at the time that "Friends" started, I was working in a coffee shop in Los Angeles called the Bourgeois Pig. I was a barista there but had been doing extra work off and on for someone who had become the second AD on "Friends." He called me up and said, "Hey, I know you're working at that coffee shop, and we have a coffee shop set in this new show that's gonna go six episodes, at least, called 'Friends.' Would you be interested in coming in one day a week? You get free craft service," and I think at that time extra pay was, like, $45 a day.
So, I'm like, OK, I could do that for six weeks, for one day a week. I came in the next day with bleached-blond hair, which had happened the night prior, and they put me behind the coffee machine and called me "Coffee Guy" … I wasn't Gunther for a year and a half. But they kept me. They kept calling me back to be an extra. Over the first year and a half, I was an extra with no name, until midway through the second season, Marta Kaufman, one of the creators and executive producers of the show, asked me if I had any acting experience. I told her, yes, I do, I have a Master of Fine Arts in acting. She said, "That's good to know," and turned around and walked away.
The next week she came up to me again and said, "Oh, you have a character name now, and his name is Gunther, and you also have a line in today's show, and it's 'Yeah.'" So I had a word in that show. And it just kind of developed organically from that. The whole Rachel obsession and the lovable creepiness of his character evolved with the writers. I can't take any credit for that.
You mentioned the hair -- Gunther's bleached hair was not your regular hair? And you bleached it the night before you started on the show?
No, I have brown hair normally. But I had a friend at the time who wanted to be a stylist, like for rock videos, heavy metal and hair bands that were around at the time. I don't know why they chose me -- I didn't have long hair, or even much of it, but they were like, "We wanna practice bleaching someone's hair," so I'm like, "Oh, here's my hair, go ahead, try it, I don't care." So they did, and I went in with this shocking white hair the next day, like Billy Idol, but apparently the producers liked the look and thought, "OK, it looks like that guy could be a barista in a New York coffee shop." So I had a little trademark. I had no idea what the show was about at the time, but it was kismet.
Fans always wondered what Gunther was up to when he wasn't at Central Perk … we wanted to know more about his life. Was there ever any discussion about giving Gunther a spinoff?
Not to my knowledge. Or not with me, at least. But yeah, I always wondered what Gunther was doing outside the coffee shop, too. Actually, I think he lived there. He was always there. He probably had a little bunk in the back, with a little shrine to Rachel. That's not creepy at all.
Do you have a favorite Gunther moment? I always think of "The One With Two Parties," where he's dancing at Rachel's birthday party…
[Laughing] Yes, that's one of mine, too, actually. That was a great, great moment, because it was one of the first times the audience really went crazy [for Gunther]. We shot it in front of a live studio audience, and I think just seeing this repressed, weird guy dancing like crazy at that party, the audience went insane for it.
And my favorite … it would have to be in the series finale, with Rachel. Personally, that was the most moving, because I was like, wow, 10 years, this guy finally gets to reveal his true feelings, and although he's shot down, he accepts it, and moves on, so that resolution was great.
Do you still watch the show if you're channel surfing?
There are a lot of scenes I'll watch now and think back on being there when they were filmed and crack up. Like Ross, in "The One With the Cop," shouting "Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!" There are a lot of (scenes) like that that still make me laugh, but it's tough to watch the show as a fan, because I always think back to being there and watching it being filmed and how it was often hard not to laugh while it was filming.
Did you keep anything from the show after the finale? Any of Gunther's trademark ties, maybe?
The wardrobe people were kind enough to give me some of Gunther's ties, and I also have a Central Perk mug.
Was there anything you wished the producers had done with Gunther that they didn't?
Give him a last name! And Chandler thought his last name was Centralperk. Gunther Centralperk. I always wondered what his last name was, but nobody ever asked him.
Did you have a suggestion for what it should have been?
I suggested Gunther Jones, just because it's so generic. Gunther Jones! It sounds like a detective. Or maybe I'm thinking of Barnaby Jones.
Other noteworthy TV DVD releases this week:
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Classic Series" (Lionsgate)
Should it matter that the 23-disc set with all 10 seasons of the original animated series comes housed in a nifty plastic replica of the Turtles' van? Maybe not, but there's no denying that it does make the collection a must-have for "Turtles" fans' Santa wish list this year.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series" on Blu-ray (Image Entertainment)
Don't trip over that ottoman, Rob. Oh, it's not an ottoman … it's the "Dick Van Dyke Show" Blu-ray box set, which includes all 157 episodes of the Emmy-winning classic -- an entry on any critic's list of the best TV comedies of all time -- digitally remastered in high definition, plus bonus material like episode commentaries and cast interviews.
"Scooby-Doo Where Are You! Complete Series" (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
All three seasons of the original "Scooby" series, with bonus features on how to draw Scooby and a Scooby trivia challenge, packaged in a Mystery Van-shaped box. And yes, we know there should be a question mark, not an exclamation point, at the end of the series title, but that's the show's official title punctuation. Ruh-roh!
"The Flintstones: The Complete Series" (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
We'll always wonder what might have been with "The Flintstones" remake "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane plotted, before Fox scrapped the idea. But this collection of all six seasons of the original 1960-66 series? Yabba dabba delightful, as a certain "King of Queens" character called the toon.
- Arts & Entertainment