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Friends oral history: The One With all the Thanksgivings

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By its fifth season, Friends‘ annual Thankgiving episode had become as much a holiday tradition as stuffing and pumpkin pie.

DAVID CRANE (CO-CREATOR): There was never a plan like, ‘We’re going to win Thanksgiving!’ I think we all really loved the first one and then the second one and it just sort of grew and grew. One of the things that’s really great about [a Thanksgiving episode] is it puts all six of them in the same room. Those tend to be our best episodes.

GREG MALINS (WRITER): I love “The One With All the Thanksgivings” because it broke out of what Friends usually did, with the flashbacks and stuff, so that was really fun and crazy.

The episode (which aired Nov. 19, 1998 on NBC) found the six pals recounting their worst Thanksgivings. For Joey (Matt LeBlanc), it was when his head got stuck in Monica’s (Courteney Cox) turkey. (Monica ends up with a turkey on her own head later in the episode.)

CRANE: That is absolutely not a real turkey. I think there are so many health issues about actually putting a turkey on someone’s head. [Laughs]

KEVIN S. BRIGHT (DIRECTOR): It’s meat, it would need to be refrigerated between takes, and it’s going to be under hot lights — you’re going to put that on Courteney Cox’s head? I don’t really think so.

MALINS: We wanted — I especially wanted — a real turkey. Just because I wanted Matt to have to put his head into a turkey. The prop department did their due diligence, but it didn’t exist. The biggest turkey ever for sale is not big enough to fit a human head. I remember them coming to us and saying, “We have to build it.” So we made it out of foam.

BRIGHT: What they didn’t want was the look of the stereotypical prop turkey. So we had a very expensive turkey made…. There were vents, and it had mesh so Courteney and Matt could see out of it. We needed the turkey for rehearsal, too…. Obviously your whole movement is affected by it. The turkey wasn’t quite done yet — we took it out early to rehearse, then put it back in for the show.

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In addition to Joey’s flashback, the faux turkey (furkey?) plays a pivotal role in the surprisingly touching scene between Monica and Chandler (Matthew Perry) at the end of the episode. Trying to make amends, Monica sticks a giant bird (accessorized with sunglasses and a fez) on her head and shimmies for Chandler. He says “I love you” for the first time.

MALINS: If you’ve got somebody with a turkey stuck to their head, how do you not have them dance? That’s Sitcom Writing 101 to me.

CRANE: [The episode is] crazy, and the comedy is really big. We felt we could get away with this because the end of the show is real, emotional, and grounded. At the very end, when it’s at its silliest, you have this moment between Monica and Chandler, which is incredibly sweet.

MALINS: This seems like the perfect moment for the first “I love you” because it was such a unique moment, and we were always very concerned about [doing things] you’ve never seen before. Because we did a lot of romantic-comedy stuff, and there’s obviously been a lot of romantic comedies in the world. It was like we were so shocked when Ross [David Schwimmer] says “Rachel” at the altar. Nobody had done that before, and we all kept racking our brains — again we couldn’t search the internet…so when you find yourself in moments like that it was just like, this seems like the perfect moment for the first “I love you.”

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