See How Lisa Kudrow Got Fired From Before Her Friends: The role of Phoebe Buffay on the beloved ’90s show “Friends” is so iconic that it’s challenging to imagine anyone other than Lisa Kudrow embodying the character. Over a span of ten years, Kudrow graced 234 episodes of the NBC sitcom, portraying both the quirky “Smelly Cat” singer and her equally peculiar twin sister, Ursula.
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A Prelude: “Cheers” and a Glimpse of “Frasier”
Yet, before her unforgettable stint on “Friends,” Kudrow made a noteworthy appearance on another NBC sitcom, “Cheers,” in a 1989 episode. While it didn’t land her a permanent spot at the Boston bar “where everybody knows your name,” this role did capture the attention of producers involved in Kelsey Grammer’s “Frasier,” a spinoff series launched in 1993. Surprisingly, around the time when Kudrow was being considered for “Friends,” she was also cast as a key character on “Frasier.”
A Crucial Decision: Shifting Worlds
In a pivotal moment in her career, Kudrow opted to trade the role of a fictional TV producer on “Frasier” for that of a singing massage therapist on “Friends.” However, this decision was not entirely her own; it was influenced by the chemistry, or lack thereof, between Kudrow and Kelsey Grammer’s character on “Frasier.” The disparity in their compatibility prompted the producers to take action.
Navigating a Chemistry Challenge on “Frasier”
Kudrow had initially been cast as Roz Doyle in “Frasier” in 1993. A career-driven and assertive character, Roz served as the producer of Dr. Frasier Crane’s KACL radio talk show. However, viewers never had the chance to witness Kudrow in this role, as she was let go from the show just three days into production for the pilot episode, titled “The Good Son.”
In a candid 2021 interview on “The Howard Stern Show,” Kudrow opened up about the reason behind her early departure from “Frasier.” She explained that her fit with the character and the overall chemistry within the cast was less than ideal. She reflected, “I wasn’t right for the part [or] for the chemistry of the group.” In fact, she sensed early on that she might not align with the preferences of the show’s producers.
The Audition That Led to “Friends”
Following her departure from “Frasier,” Kudrow faced a defining audition for “Friends.” In a unique turn of events, she was the sole member of the six-person cast required to audition separately for James Burrows, the show’s director. As Kudrow recounted, she emerged from the audition with no notes from Burrows, leaving her with mixed feelings. She mused, “That either means she’s beyond help and helpless, just like I always knew,” or “Yeah, it’s perfect. I have no notes.”
Kudrow acknowledged that Burrows had made the right decision in letting her go from “Frasier,” a show that ran one season longer than “Friends” on NBC and later scored a 2023 reboot. She conceded, “He wasn’t wrong about ‘Frasier,’ he wasn’t. I wasn’t right.” However, during the filming of the “Friends” pilot, Kudrow couldn’t help but worry that history might repeat itself. Fortunately for fans, her fears went unrealized.
The Pivotal Scene That Made the Difference
In the aftermath of Kudrow’s departure from “Frasier,” Peri Gilpin was cast as Dr. Frasier Crane’s talk show producer, Roz Doyle. This casting choice ultimately proved to be a successful one, and “Frasier” went on to claim a staggering 37 Emmy Awards during its 11-season run.
So, what did Peri Gilpin possess that Kudrow did not? The key factor hinged on a critical scene in the “Frasier” pilot. According to producer James Burrows in an interview with WBUR, the pivotal moment came during the Lupe Vélez speech scene in the pilot episode, “The Good Son.” He pointed out that Kelsey Grammer exuded a commanding personality, while Kudrow’s strength lay in her ethereal qualities. This divergence created a disconnect during a critical juncture in the episode.
The scene in question featured Roz Doyle sharing a tale about the 1930s movie star Lupe Vélez, who wished to be remembered for a lavish suicide but met a rather mundane end. When asked why she was telling him this story, Roz responded, “Even though things may not happen like we planned, they can work out anyway.” Ironically, these words held true for Kudrow’s journey, even though she never had the chance to utter them on screen.