It seems bizarre now, but back in the mid-90s, millions of people would tune in to watch the same episode of the same TV show all at the same time.
That might broadly be a thing of the past now, but the first two seasons of ‘Friends’ regularly attracted 20m or even 30m viewers in the United States.
And that’s before you even get on to the number of viewers overseas, or the number who have since tuned in to catch reruns.
But one of the most-viewed episodes of the show, which was watched by 31.6m Americans and won awards around the time of its 1996 release, almost never made it to air.
‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’, which features – as you can probably work out – a lesbian wedding, picked up more viewers than any episode in season 1, season 3, season 5, season 6 or season 7.
In fact, only 10 of the show’s 230+ episodes were watched by more.
But the subject matter, with Friends only the second show after Roseanne to include a gay marriage ceremony as part of a storyline (recurring character Leon married his partner Scott), saw two regional stations refuse to air it…and one scene nearly never made it onto TV at all.
Jane Sibbett and Jessica Hecht, who played Carol and Susan (the couple who married in the episode) explained how it went down during an appearance on daytime TV show Lorraine.
“It was the first lesbian wedding to ever be shown on TV and they blocked it out in some affiliates,” Sibbett said.
“But it all worked out as we got so much press because they blocked it. We actually won awards for that storyline!”
Stations in parts of Texas and Ohio opted not to show the episode in its regular timeslot, prompting the managing director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to hit out at the “censorship”.
“By not airing the program in its timeslot, they are sending a chilling message to America that there’s something wrong with lesbian and gay couples publicly stating their commitments to one another,” William Waybourn said at the time.
‘The One With the Lesbian Wedding’ ended up being the most-viewed show on TV all week when it first aired in January 1996, and was one of the episodes cited in Friends Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series.
(Images: NBC/Rex Features)