Seinfeld, a comedy series created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, debuted on television in 1989 and ran for nine trendy seasons. Many people consider Seinfeld, along with Friends, to be the classic sitcom of an entire generation. Its core foursome of Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine, Jason Alexander as George, and Michael Richards as Kramer became cultural icons in their own right. One might assume that Friends and Seinfeld would become rivals, but Kudrow claims that the exact reverse is true.
Kudrow even tells a comical tale of running into Seinfeld at a gathering, where the comedian merely said, “You’re welcome,” to her. When asked if she ever felt competitive with the show, Kudrow responded:
No. I did not. Without diminishing the quality of Friends’ writing, acting, or production values, our ratings for the first season were perfectly acceptable. We began to build after holding onto Mad About You for a while, but our explosion came in the summer when we were in reruns following Seinfeld, with Seinfeld serving as our lead-in. When I said “hi” to Jerry at a gathering, he replied, “You’re welcome.” I can still remember that. “Why, thank you… what?” I asked. He added that you’re welcome and will go after us in the summer. “That’s precisely accurate,” I replied. I’m grateful.
Even if it’s reasonable to think that Friends would have had some degree of success even in the absence of Seinfeld, Kudrow’s statement strongly suggests that it most likely wouldn’t have become the cultural powerhouse it did. Given that Seinfeld premiered five years before Friends, it was able to build up a sizable fan base before Friends had even released a single episode. In terms of ratings at the time, Seinfeld generally outperformed Friends; nonetheless, it’s fascinating to note that Friends tends to be more popular with younger, more contemporary audiences today.