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An Unsuccessful Pilot Is to Thank for Matthew Perry Being Cast in ‘Friends’

Photo Credit: justmeredith / The WB Television Network / MovieStillsDB)
Photo Credit: justmeredith / The WB Television Network / MovieStillsDB)

On October 28, 2023, the world learned the news of Matthew Perry’s untimely death, at the age of 54. With a career that spanned decades, he was best known for portraying the humorous and sarcastic Chandler Bing on Friends (1994-2004). Viewers of the show might not realize that he almost missed out on the role, thanks to him being cast in an unusual sci-fi series that never took off.

Friends (1994-2004)

Publicity still for 'Friends,' showing the cast drinking milkshakes
Friends, 1994-2004. (Photo Credit: daysfan20yrs / The WB Television Network / MovieStillsDB)

Friends is an NBC primetime sitcom that aired from 1994-2004. The brainchild of David Crane and Marta Kauffman, the series, which ran for 10 seasons and spanned 236 episodes, initially received mixed reviews, but ultimately grew to become one of TV’s most enduring and popular productions.

The show centers around a group of six friends – Monica and Ross Gellar (Courtney Cox and David Schwimmer), Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) and Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) – who go through the ups and downs of living in New York City in their mid-20s/early 30s, and it became renowned for both its comedy and storylines.

Friends served as the launching point for its stars’ careers, with all going on to have enduring stints in Hollywood. Over its 10-year run, the show was the recipient of 65 awards, including six Primetime Emmys and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Many viewers continue to watch reruns, citing the series as a source of comfort.

Matthew Perry was originally cast in another show

Portrait of Matthew Perry
Matthew Perry, 1992. (Photo Credit: Ron Davis / Getty Images)

By the early 1990s, Matthew Perry’s career had stalled, having only starred in the short-lived show, Second Chances/Boys Will Be Boys (1987-88). Other than that, he’d secured just small roles in a handful of TV shows and films.

As he told Seth Meyers in 2015, his “terrible” manager told him he had “no money,” which forced Perry to accept any job he was offered, just to make ends meet. This is what led him to secure a role on the unsold TV pilot, LAX 2194, alongside Kelly Hu and Ryan Stiles.

“This happened to be the year that Friends was shot, but I was off the market because I had taken a job on a pilot called LAX 2194 that was about baggage handlers at L.A. Airport in the year 2194,” he told the late-night host. “So I was wearing a futuristic shirt, and little people played the aliens in which I had to sort out the aliens’ luggage and that was basically the show.”

Praying for a stroke of luck in Hollywood

Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry as Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing in 'Friends'
Friends, 1994-2004. (Photo Credit: justmeredith / The WB Television Network / MovieStillsDB)

Just three weeks prior to his audition for Friends, Matthew Perry was sitting in his Los Angeles, California apartment, reading about actor Charlie Sheen. As he recalled in his 2022 memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, this was the point where he decided he needed to turn to a higher power to get his Hollywood dreams off the ground.

“Out of nowhere, I found myself getting to my knees, closing my eyes tightly, and praying. I had never done this before,” he wrote, saying he asked God to “please make me famous.”

As aforementioned, Perry had been cast in LAX 2194 and was unavailable to audition for Friends, then known as Friends Like Us. However, in what many would consider a stroke of luck, a FOX executive refused to greenlight the project, calling it “the worst thing we’ve ever seen in our lives.”

More from us: David Puttnam: The Studio Head Who Hated Hollywood

It was this rather callous decision that ultimately freed up the actor to audition for Chandler Bing, a role he called “perfect for me.” Just three weeks later, he’d secured the role of a lifetime, becoming the youngest cast member at just 24 years old.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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