Emmy flashback: The one when ‘Friends’ finally won Best Comedy Series

Before we pull up on our favorite orange couch and hang out once again on Thursday with our best pals for HBO Max’s “Friends: The Reunion” special, let’s look back at another big day in “Friends” history: the one when it won the Best Comedy Series Emmy at last.

That day was Sept. 22, 2002, which was also the eighth anniversary of the series premiere, and as luck would have it, the Emmys aired on NBC that year. Despite being a global phenomenon, “Friends” was never an Emmy favorite; during its 10-year run, it amassed 62 nominations and won six. It was only nominated for Best Comedy Series six times and 2002 marked what would be its penultimate bid in the category.

But the Emmy was the show’s to lose in 2002. Coming off its eighth season, “Friends” enjoyed a rebirth that year (or a “frienissance,” as Phoebe would say). That was the season of Rachel’s pregnancy, culminating in her giving birth in the finale and thinking Joey had proposed to her, months after he had confessed his feelings for her, and the one that featured Brad Pitt’s guest spot. It was also the season that aired on the heels of 9/11, and at a time when many were looking for comfort, millions turned to their “Friends” — the series was the most-watched show of the season with an average of 24.5 million viewers, the first and only time it held that honor, back when ratings still mattered a whole lot.

SEE How to watch the ‘Friends’ reunion

Season 8 was so massive that “Friends” became the fifth and most recent Best Comedy Series champ to triumph without a writing or directing nomination. Emmy producers also sensed a coronation moment and Best Comedy Series was presented last instead of Best Drama Series, which is the final category more often than not. (That “swap” also makes more sense than, oh, putting Best Actor last.) “Friends” beat “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Sex & the City” and “Will & Grace.”

“This is so amazing after eight years and the last three hours and 10 minutes,” co-creator and executive producer David Crane said in his speech (watch above). “This is so worth the wait.”

That wasn’t the only statuette the show won that evening. For the first time, the six stars decided to all submit in lead that year. Until then, they all submitted in supporting to stay true to the ensemble nature of the show, resulting in a win for Lisa Kudrow in 1998 and nominations for David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston. In 2002, Aniston, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry all scored lead bids, with Aniston prevailing. Courteney Cox was the only cast member who was never nominated for “Friends” and is still awaiting her first career Primetime Emmy nomination.

And that could actually happen with “Friends: The Reunion.” All six stars are executive producers on the special, so they’d be on the ballot if it gets in for Best Variety Special (Pre-Recorded). So, yes, after all this time, Cox could get her first nomination for “Friends.” That’s what you call coming full (concentric) circle.

“Friends: The Reunion” premieres Thursday on HBO Max.

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