They were there for us every week, when our jobs were a joke, when we were broke and especially when our love lives were D.O.A.
But after May 6, "Friends" (search) won’t be Must-See TV anymore, a passing that millions of Americans will mourn — or celebrate — Thursday night.
While NBC (search) is expecting 50 million viewers to tune in for the finale and has done everything to pique people's curiosity, including months of promotion and even providing instructions on how to have a "Friends" finale party, some are more than ready for the show to go.
On Wednesday, Regis Philbin spoke for many when he said: "I am so tired of saying goodbye to 'Friends.' Get it over with already."
Nevertheless, the sitcom's fans and foes alike seem to perceive the end of the show as a big cultural event, and most say they'll tune in for one final date with Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Joey, Monica and Phoebe.
TV producer Terry Dollard, 29, said he hasn't followed "Friends" since it "jumped the shark" after Ross and Rachel broke up the final time, but even he plans to tune in Thursday.
"I will watch the finale in case it is great," he said.
New York City resident John Jones, 53, is also not a big fan of the show, but he too will watch the ending out of curiosity.
"Not that many shows run for 10 years — everybody's going to be watching it and talking about it," he said.
Still, many fans think the show deserves all the hoopla surrounding its parting.
“It’s like the end of an era,” said Heidi Doescher, a 23-year-old teacher in Stebbins, Ala., who is having a farewell to “Friends” party with five or six other 20-somethings. "It’s been a pretty consistently funny show — I think everyone relates to the characters a lot."
Advertisers are counting on the show to deliver big numbers, reportedly forking over a record $2 million for 30-second ads, just shy of the cost of Super Bowl ads and more than the $1.7 million paid for 30-second spots in the 1998 "Seinfeld" finale.
Cable station TV Land (search) considers the end of “Friends” such a big deal that it has cancelled regular programming while the show airs from 9 p.m.-10 p.m. In its place, the channel will show six people seated in front of a TV set who will periodically turn to the camera and say, "We're watching 'Friends' and so should you."
And many fans agree that it's hard to say goodbye — especially for those in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, for whom "Friends" was the top comedy on television for six years in a row.
“I started watching right after college in the fall of ’94 … I got sucked in because these people are in the same exact stage of life as I am," said San Francisco resident Natalie Ferguson, 31. "The humor was more like real life. It wasn’t a stretch for people to think 'I could be sitting in that coffee shop.'"
Another popular reason for tuning in Thursday: to get an idea of what life beyond Central Perk holds for the six characters.
"We're seeing their next steps. They're all taking their journeys elsewhere," Ferguson said.
Robert Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University, said the end of "Friends," while overhyped, is truly a pop culture landmark.
"It's the end of the sitcom era that started in 1982 with the beginning of 'Cheers,' 'The Cosby Show,' 'Family Ties,' 'Night Court.' It influenced 'Sex and the City' by allowing the characters to talk more candidly. And it became representative of the new tendency of people to postpone marriage and create ad hoc families of friends."
That said, with Monica, Chandler and Phoebe married off and Rachel and Ross on the verge of possibly getting back together again, some say the end of "Friends" comes not a moment too soon.
"They started to run out of permutations of romances among the six stars — Joey and Rachel were a ridiculous combination," Dollard said. "When Chandler got married, the buddy-buddy angle started to fade. In my opinion Phoebe was the funniest, and a character like that can only go for so long."
Even Doescher, who's a fan, agreed that the show has run its course.
"It’s kind of sad, but I think they’ve kind of gone through all the scenarios," she said.