Backstage Pass: Secrets From the Sets of 90s TV Classics

friends episodes

We're taking a stroll down memory lane to revisit our favorite 90s television staples with these fun trivia revelations about their origins, behind-the-scenes dramas, urban legends, and other oddities.

1. Courtney Cox Inspired Iconic ‘Carlton' Dance

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Alfonso Ribeiro
Image Credit: The Stuffed Dog Company, NBC Productions, and Warner Horizon Unscripted Television.

Everyone recognizes “The Carlton” signature dance move from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But did you know how its origins are a little mix of Courtney Cox's impromptu dance when she's pulled up on stage in the Bruce Springsteen music video for Dancing in the Dark—and Eddie Murphy's imitation of white people dancing during his Raw standup comedy film. The result is a poetically white dance for an iconic black character, which unexpectedly became a cultural phenomenon.

2. Agent Scully Was Inspired by Clarice Starling

the X Files, the List Gillian Anderson
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

Gillian Anderson and Jodie Foster were two darlings of the 90s whose magnum opuses are unexpectedly connected. Two years after the release of The Silence of the Lambs and one year after it won an Oscar for Best Picture, The X-Files aired on Fox, starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as FBI agents turned UFO hunters.

Agent Scully bears a striking resemblance to Clarice Starling, and that's because Starling's no-nonsense, professional attitude in The Silence of the Lambs served as inspiration for the route The X-Files wanted to go with Agent Scully. She was the foil to Mulder's woo-woo superstition, prioritizing facts and skepticism over belief. Even Scully's appearance takes after Starling, which screams 90s career woman with short dark hair.

3. ‘Seinfeld' Was Born in a Grocery Store

Seinfeld: The Puerto Rican Day
Image Credit: Giggling Goose Productions and Castle Rock Entertainment.

Seinfeld gets a bad rap for being a show about nothing. This novel concept struck the two comedians as they were bantering back and forth in the grocery store. Their conversation wasn't important or fantastical, but it was funny and ordinary. It occurred to them that they'd never seen this type of comedic dialogue take center stage on television before — stand-up comedy as the focus of a comedic television show and where a stand-up comic derives his material from— the monotony of life.

4. Rachel's First Boyfriend on ‘Friends' Was Supposed To Play Ross

Friends
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Rachel Green and Ross Gellar's storyline almost took on a whole different iteration with a different actor. In episode 24 of season 1, titled “The One Where Rachel Finds Out,” Rachel leaves Barry, her first romantic interest in the show, at the altar on their wedding day when she finds out Ross has feelings for her.

The twist of irony here is that the actor who plays Barry was supposed to play Ross and would have if it weren't for David Schwimmer's last-minute audition. Mitchell Whitfield says Schwimmer was the last guy they brought in to read for the part, and the rest was history. While he was still part of the iconic franchise and even played one of Jen Aniston's love interests, he jokes that his wife cringes a little bit with the knowledge he almost made tens of millions of dollars as Ross.

5. Shannen Doherty Got Fired From 90210 Over a Haircut

90210Shannen Doherty
Image Credit: Fox Network.

It might sound like a silly, arbitrary detail, but changing hairstyle and identifiable aspects of an actor's appearance can affect the continuity of a scene. While a scene may play out in just a few minutes on screen, it wasn't necessarily all shot in one day.

This is why when Shannen Doherty showed up to set one day with a much shorter ‘do, the 90210 producers fired her for ruining the continuity of a scene they were still shooting. Tensions had already been brewing on set due to Doherty's difficulty to get along with others and some personal drama with her co-star Tori Spelling. The haircut just pushed them over the edge.

6. Leo DiCaprio Auditioned for Baywatch

Titanic (1997)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Now an in-demand A-List actor, it's easy to forget Leo DiCaprio had his start in Hollywood as a child actor — perhaps because he kept his focus solely on the acting domain rather than the distractions many former child actors find themselves wrapped up in.

When DiCaprio was fifteen, he auditioned for the part of Hobie, the son of David Hasselhoff's character in Baywatch. Hasselhoff himself rejected DiCaprio for the role, believing he was too old to play the young boy. Hasselhoff still stands by his decision, insisting we have him to thank for rejecting DiCaprio so that he could be available for Titanic, the film that launched him into superstardom.

7. Jennifer Aniston Was Almost Written off of ‘Friends' in First Season

friends the one with where rachel finds out 1
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Oh, the horror this little factoid inspires in me is deeply unsettling. Jennifer Aniston was our 90s queen; our light, our life, our hair-spo. She forged her way into our living rooms with Friends, the hit sitcom about a group of friends hanging around a coffee shop, bumbling around in their 20s and 30s in New York City. There's no denying Aniston was a crucial piece of the beloved Friends dynamic.

She was hilarious, her hair was amazing, and her chemistry with David Schwimmer probably even made Brad Pitt a little uncomfortable. But all that was almost taken away from us in the show's first season because she signed onto another sitcom called Muddling Through. If the show had gotten picked up, Aniston would need to be recast since she wouldn't be available for Friends, and producers were prepared to do so. Luckily, Muddling Through was canceled, and we got ten straight years of the perfect Rachel Green.

8. Ryan Reynolds Almost Played Xander in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Ryan Reynolds
Image Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com.

Xander, a close friend of Buffy's in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who ended up being played by Nicholas Brenden, almost went to Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds was offered the role, but he turned it down because he didn't want to play a high schooler right out of high school, mainly because his own high school experience was miserable.

We're not sure if this was better or worse for the trajectory of his career, but it probably would've placed a typecasting curse on him, which may have deprived us of his most important cinematic work, Deadpool.

9. ‘The X-Files' Is Based on Real Events

The X Files Ten Thirteen Productions e1694996806100
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The X-Files is a spooky show about UFOs, extraterrestrials, monsters, and government conspiracies. It feels firmly grounded in the realm of science fiction. However, the show's plot points and even its alien premise are all based on real events or genuine claims made by scientists and researchers.

Chris Carter came up with the idea for the show after reading a Harvard paper that referenced the 3.7 million people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. It was an untapped niche, and The X-Files certainly delivered. Many other details in the show originated from scientific findings, such as a scientist growing an extra limb on a salamander's back, which inspired an episode about a man with a salamander-esque hand.

10. ‘Home Improvement' Stars Turned Down Huge Pay Days for Extra Season

Home Improvement episode Loves Labor Lost
Image Credit: Wind Dancer Productions and Touchstone Television.

You rarely hear big-time actors walking away from considerable paydays to do just one more season of their hit TV sitcom. If anything, we hear of in-demand actors departing from their beloved acting gigs when they cannot reach an agreement satisfying their compensation demands.

Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson, who played on-screen husband and wife in ABC's Home Improvement, turned down $50 million and $25 million, respectively, because they felt the show had run its course and the only thing keeping anyone there was the money. Deciding that they'd rather end the show with dignity than an extra tens of millions of dollars, they both walked away.

11. Michael Crichton Wanted to Pitch ‘ER' to Steven Spielberg as a Movie

Jurassic Park e1675659670345
Image Credit: Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment.

Crichton wrote the script for his hit show ER with the intention of it being made into a movie. He set up a meeting with Steven Spielberg, hoping to pitch the script to him and get it picked up as a film. However, the two never discussed the ER script because Spielberg asked him about his latest novel, Jurassic Park.

By the end of the meeting, ER was still just an idea, but he sold Spielberg the film rights to Jurassic Park, one of the most iconic film franchises ever. The franchise has grossed over $6 billion at the worldwide box office. The ER script eventually landed in the lap of the president of Spielberg's production company, who thought it'd make for a great TV series.

12. There is a Real”Soup Nazi”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Larry Thomas in Seinfeld (1989)
Image Credit: West/Shapiro Productions and Castle Rock Entertainment.

“The Soup Nazi” is the sixth episode of Seinfeld‘s seventh season, which follows an outrageously quick-tempered man who owns a soup kitchen in New York City. While he's known for his soups' exceptional quality, the way he treats his customers is bordering on nazism. For even the slightest behavioral infraction, he would lash out at the customer and declare angrily, “No soup for you!”

The only thing funnier than the show's soup nazi is the real man behind the story, Al Yeganeh. Yeganeh owns NYC's Soup Kitchen International, and his portrayal on the show is a true representation of his temper. Just watch this news program that interviews him about his hilarious one-sided beef with Jerry Seinfeld and his displeasure at, well, seemingly anything anyone says to him.

13. George Clooney Was Desperate for His ‘ER' Role

ER (1994)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

Before he became one of Hollywood's leading men, Clooney wasn't so in demand for roles, even on television. ER became his breakout star moment when he was cast in 1994. The lesser-known backstory is how much groveling Clooney was willing to resort to land that role.

From befriending assistants and casting producers to flirt with people and even buying women chocolates and flowers to get an in, it looks like his relentless pursuit paid off. I think it's safe to say he doesn't have to work so hard for his roles nowadays. There's something endearing about the humble beginnings of  Hollywood's most famous actors.

14. A Man Named Michael Costanza Sued ‘Seinfeld' for $100 Million

Seinfeld The Subway George Costanza
Image Credit: West/Shapiro Productions and Castle Rock

This one's just plain amusing. A real-life New York man who goes by the unfortunate name of Michael Costanza caught wind of the Seinfeld character, who he was convinced was based on him. To be fair, there are some similarities between Michael and the on-screen Costanza character. Both were bold, stocky guys who went to college with Jerry Seinfeld. Michael even makes a cameo in “The Parking Space” as a truck driver with a line about ice cream.

Michael Costanza claimed these similarities, plus the fact that he “had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces, which proves that the creators ripped off his likeness for material for the show. The show also had a history of basing characters on real people. However, his case was dismissed because the statute of limitations ran out since he didn't sue within a year of the show's airing. The showrunners maintain that Michael did not inspire Costanza but was instead based on the show's creator and main writer for the first seven seasons, Larry David.

15. Mila Kunis Lied About Her Age To Get in ‘That 70s Show'

That 70s Show Jackie
Image Credit: The Carsey-Werner Distribution.

Kunis hardly hides the fact that she wound up with her breakout role as Jackie Burkhart on That 70s Show by using cunning deception. Only 14 years old at the time of casting was the actual age of the character she played on the show, but as Kunis explained on The Howard Stern Show, they wanted the actors to be legally emancipated so they could work longer hours. When the producers asked if she was 18, she lied and said yes.

By the time she admitted her true age, she already had the role. Kunis was 15 by the time they started filming. Things get a little weird, though, when you realize she had to play the girlfriend of Michael Kelso, played by 20-year-old Ashton Kutcher, who later became her husband. Kunis swears that while they developed a romance much later in life, there was no attraction between the two during the eight years of filming for the show.

16. Megan Mullaly Originally Wanted to Play Grace on ‘Will & Grace'

Will & Grace Karen Walker
Image Credit: NBC.

The iconically irreverent, quick-witted socialite Karen from Will & Grace could not have possibly found a better actress to embody her eccentricity than Megan Mullaly. It's unbelievable that she was first brought in to audition for Grace! Even when playing Karen was suggested, she had reservations about playing a bougie best friend and thought she couldn't bring anything new to the role.

She thought, maybe I'll make her a little weird, and started impromptu ad-libbing in “honey's” and other funny lines, scared it wouldn't land and they would fire her. Instead, she brought an irreplaceable quirkiness to the role. Sometimes, not landing the conventional lead is a godsend. Karen is so much more iconic.

17. Footage of Zordon in ‘The Power Rangers' Was Played on a Loop

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Image Credit: Fox.

In The Power Rangers, Zordon is a wise inter-dimensional wizard who appears as a giant floating holographic head in a tube. Throughout the series, Zordon appears intermittently as a mentor for the team of power rangers, providing guidance and advice. Zordon's scenes were filmed during the pilot and ran on a loop throughout the series to save money. You can notice many scenes where the audio doesn't match up with the recording of his face.

18. Each ‘Dinosaurs' Episode Took 65 Hours Hours to Film

Dinosaurs 1991
Image Credit: ABC.

If you wonder why puppetry has lost its appeal in recent years, it's probably because it isn't worth the hassle. Every 23-minute episode of the 90s puppet show Dinosaurs took 65 hours of work. Nowadays, the use of computers can aid in altering the facial expressions of puppets, but back in the 90s, it took three or four puppeteers to create just a handful of expressions.

19. Larry David Made a Many Strange Cameos in ‘Seinfeld'

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Image Credit: HBO Entertainment.

Larry David was truly the heart of Seinfeld and worked tirelessly to make the show what it was, from conception and writing to acting. David had a knack for spontaneous appearances throughout the show until his departure after season 7. Over the seven seasons, he developed quite the resume as an owner of the New York Yankees, George's lawyer, George's boss, a street vendor, and the list goes on.

Sometimes, David would have a more pronounced cameo, while other times, he merely filled the space in the background. Other times, David just lent his voice to the scene, like when he provided the distinctive screams for Jerry's nemesis, Newman.

20. Will Smith Landed ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Gig Thanks to an Impromptu Audition

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Image Credit: NBC Productions.

The story of Will Smith's sudden claim to fame amid troubles with the IRS is an amazing story. Despite having music success, he wasn't in good financial standing and was spending more than he earned. His girlfriend convinced him to hang around The Arsenio Hall Show, hoping he could seize a career opportunity over there.

The plan worked. That's where he met Benny Medina, the real-life Fresh Prince, who took him to a party at Quincy Jones' house. While there, Smith performed an out-of-the-blue ten-minute audition for the title role in the show, and not only did he land it, but Jones had a team of lawyers draw up contracts right on the spot and agreed to be executive producer.

21. Jessie's Addiction in ‘Saved by the Bell' Was Supposed To Be Different

Elizabeth Berkley in Saved by the Bell (1989)
Image Credit: Peter Engel Productions and NBC Productions.

One of the most infamous Saved by the Bell episodes, “Jessie's Song,” almost didn't make it to the air because it featured serious, untapped territory — the exploration of drug addiction. In the official episode that aired, Jessie gets addicted to caffeine pills. While her hyper, erratic, seemingly drug-fueled demeanor might seem hilariously out of place, that's because the official drug in question was retconned by the censorial department.

Speed was far too serious and troubling for Saturday morning entertainment. So, executive producer Peter Engel kept the content of the episode largely untouched except for changing the speed to caffeine pills, and the episode was approved for television. The caffeine pills as a euphemism for more serious drugs seemed to resonate with audiences because it reached cult status and touched a lot of people.

22. ‘Melrose Place' Ended When It Became Unrealistic 

Melrose Place
Image Credit: Fox Network.

Melrose Place ran for seven seasons, and throughout that time, a recurring question kept popping up, “why haven't they moved?” Sure, Melrose Place is the show's title, and the name of the apartment building the characters live in, but after each of them had reached the pinnacle of success and wealth, it became the elephant in the room. What are these wealthy people doing still living in a tiny apartment? The producers admit that after a while, the issue became unavoidable, and it contributed to the ending of the show.

23. ‘Simpsons' Creator Named All but One Character After His Family

The Simpsons 2
Image Credit: Gracie Films.

The main Simpsons cast are all named after creator Matt Groening's family. His parents are Homer and Marge, and his younger sisters are Lisa and Margaret (Maggie). Groening thought naming the son after himself was a little too weird and on-the-nose, so he derived Bart from the anagram of “Brat” since the character's archetype is pretty bratty.

It must be weird to be a family sitting around the TV watching an iconic TV show whose characters are all named after you. Another odd factoid: in a refusal to name the grandpa after his own, Abram Groening, he left it up to The Simpsons‘ producers to choose a name. They coincidentally chose Abraham despite not knowing his grandfather's name.

24. ‘Saved by the Bell' Set Lives on in Subsequent TV Shows

Saved By the Bell
Image Credit: NBC Productions.

Saved By the Bell may have ended in 1993, but its set has been repurposed and lives on in many of your favorite 90s and 2000s television series, like That's So Raven, iCarly, Freaks and Geeks, and several editions of The Power Rangers.

Author: Jaimee Marshall

Title: Freelance Writer

Expertise: Politics, Entertainment, Lifestyle, Pop Culture

Bio:

Jaimee Marshall is a culture writer, avid movie buff, and political junkie. She spends the bulk of her time watching and critiquing films, writing political op-eds, and dabbling in philosophy. She has a Communication Studies degree from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she flirted with several different majors before deciding to pursue writing. As a result, she has a diverse educational background, having studied economics, political science, psychology, business admin, rhetoric, and debate.