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Published: Friday, 5/7/2004

'Friends' no more: Fans bid farewell to show over coffee

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Goodbye.

Jeni Soeder held her breath and clenched her fists as Ross and Rachel nearly said that to each other one last time.

The 20-year-old University of Toledo junior said "No, No. No," softy to herself when it looked like the couple would part ways for good at the airport.

But this time, it was meant to be for the couple that was together, apart, on a break, together again, apart, had a baby, sort of together, and then apart once again.

"I loved it. I like happy love stories, and Ross and Rachel are meant to be together," Ms. Soeder said. "He's loved her so long and they will all be together because for me, the show doesn't end."

The Friends finale drew millions to their televisions - NBC privately predicted some 45 million viewers. But last night, at Beaner's Gourmet Coffee near Central Avenue and Secor Road - the West Toledo version of Central Perk - a cozy group of just 30 fans watched the show together.

The group cheered as television's most popular comedy came to an end. The show didn't have the much-feared upset ending. Instead, it went for the crowd-pleaser: Rachel getting off a plane to stay with Ross just as she was about to leave for a new job in Paris.

The big suspense of the finale involved Rachel's plan to move and whether Ross would stop her or join her.

The episode that capped off 10 years of the series included a surprise for Monica, Chandler, and the audience. They had expected to adopt a child from a young pregnant woman. But as they celebrated the birth of their new son in the delivery room, they got the news: another child was on the way - a girl.

It wasn't all surprises.

"I think Ross is going to go with Rachel to Paris," Dee Mackay, 42, said before the show aired. "They'll be together."

Ms. Mackay has watched the show since its first episode in 1994.

"I've loved it just because of the friendships and how they've matured. They went from having monkeys and ducks and chicks to having babies."

She didn't care what continent the couple ended up on, so long as they're together.

Ross' journey to the wrong airport nearly spelled disaster, but Phoebe's eye-shutting drive across New York City to Newark put the couple together just in time.

"Right when I first started watching TV, this and Seinfeld were big," said Kyle Frazer, 21. "When we lost Seinfeld, it was still nice to have Friends, and it was nice to still have it besides all the reality shows of people eating bugs that make you sick. This was just a great show to get together with your friends and watch."

In New York City, where the series was set, the final episode was beamed on a big screen in Times Square, and some 3,000 people sat on blankets and watched in a park overlooking the Hudson River in Tribeca.

"I'm a New Yorker, so I understand the whole lifestyle," said 33-year-old Joann Joseph. "I find it funny. I love how they all have different personalities, but they all come together."

The Friends finale was likely to be the second most-watched TV show of the year, behind the Super Bowl, which had almost 90 million viewers.

Television's most popular series finale ever, M*A*S*H, was seen by 105 million viewers in 1983, according to Nielsen Media Research. The last Cheers was seen by 80.4 million people in 1993, and Seinfeld had 76.2 million for its 1998 ending.

The number NBC likes best is $2 million, which advertisers were paying for a 30-second commercial on the final Friends.

The six actors involved - Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, and Lisa Kudrow - maintained an all-for-one spirit off-screen, even negotiating contracts together.

The finale ended with the six characters giving up their keys to Monica and Chandler's apartment.

"This is harder than I thought it was going to be," Monica said, before the six friends left for one last cup of coffee - babies in tow.

"It was a really good way to end it," Mr. Frazer, of North Toledo, said. "The symbolism of giving back of the keys was great."

The Associated Press con- tributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6088.



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