Marta Kauffman, the co-creator, writer and executive producer of Friends, knows that the comedy landscape has changed since millions tuned in weekly to see what was happening with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica and Phoebe. "I believe someone at some point really needs to reinvent the sitcom," she says. "That's not working so great anymore."
Comedy is not the same anymore, she points out, noting that shows such as Amazon's Transparent are less joke-orientated and darker than television comedy used to be.
“The characters aren’t so nice. They’re not always people that I would choose to bring into my bedroom, and I think that’s part of what makes it hard to have a completely successful comedy,” she says.
Kauffman has her own new comedy on Netflix, called Grace and Frankie, which is available now on the streaming site. It stars the veteran actors Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, who play women whose husbands – played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston – leave them.
Kauffman talks about making a show for an older audience and why we won't see Dolly Parton – who co-starred with Tomlin and Fonda in the 1980 film 9 to 5 — on Grace and Frankie, at least not for a while.
A trend right now in entertainment is to do reboots or remakes. Will we ever see a reboot or a remake of Friends?
I hope not [laughs]. Will they try to redo it? I don’t know. I don’t know how that works, honestly, legally. We know we’re not ever, ever, ever doing a reunion. I think it would be really stupid to do reboots. I don’t understand reboots. It makes it feel like we’ve run out of ideas.
I can’t help it but when I heard that Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin were doing a TV show together I immediately thought about Dolly Parton ...
I know. Here's the thing. Until the show is established as a world of its own, when you bring Dolly Parton into it – who I love by the way – what it takes you to is, 'Oh, it's a 9 to 5 reunion'. We haven't established Grace and Frankie as individuals yet, so you can enjoy that without it taking you out of the show, so that's why I'm hesitant.
Once you had Fonda and Tomlin on board, was it easy to cast the rest of the show?
I’m sure that’s why we were able to get Sam and Martin. I also think that all four of them were really looking forward to a steady gig as the most important people in a show. There aren’t a lot of shows where ... the four leads are all of this age. I think that was exciting. I know it certainly was to Jane and Lily. I believe there was an element of that for Sam and Martin, too.
Has Netflix shown any reservation at all about who their audience is for this show?
Never once. If there was reservation we never heard it. What you have here is an opportunity to target a marginalised audience. Nobody targets a show for people over 50, no one. The baby boomers who are over 50 are the largest segment of our population. [Netflix] saw this as an opportunity to reach out as a new audience for them.