Friends flexed such cultural muscle in the 1990s that it spawned the ‘Rachel haircut’ and sparked the rise of coffee culture (rather than tea) in North India.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, discovered how nasty the UK tabloid press could be in 1998. Ferguson divorced Prince Andrew a few years ago, and since then, she’s been subjected to increasingly negative, suspicious coverage — her lifestyle, her romantic life after the divorce, anything was fair game.
Ferguson then made a cameo appearance as herself in the fourth season finale of Friends, which was shot in London, in 1998. Friends had become a smash hit in the United Kingdom by that time: cast members were routinely mobbed during filming, there was a mad rush to be in the live audience, and the show was a giant sensation. Ferguson meets Joey (Matt LeBlanc) in the middle of a London tour during her cameo. Joey, dressed in a Union Jack top hat, asks Ferguson for directions to Buckingham Palace and leaves a message for Chandler. “I know Joey says you don’t like his hat,” she says, “but I think it’s kind of dashing.”
The cameo turned out to be a PR coup. Ferguson’s media coverage began to improve noticeably. The public admired her for being a sport, a rare quality among the usually “discreet” royals (the Queen was reportedly not pleased with the cameo, according to Ferguson’s memoirs). The tabloids, which are steadfast populists, followed suit.
Later in the book, Miller discusses how Friends helped to popularise coffee culture around the world — the six central characters regularly meet for coffee at a place called Central Perk. Following the show’s success, cafés all over North America began to dress up like Central Perk, complete with blown-up images of steaming coffee cups on the outside.
“Café Coffee Day first opened its doors in India in 1996, and it quickly grew to over a thousand locations. Until that time, coffee was only available in a few southern regions, and tea had been the country’s primary beverage since British rule. Now, through India’s television screens, another huge force from the West was coming in.”
Friends has achieved a similar level of global mainstream success, even if recent critical renewals have corrupted the show’s aura. And I’m sure there won’t be many dry eyes among fans and cynics alike when the six main cast members revisit the iconic apartment set during the reunion (as the trailer teased).