Just four months before Friends debuted on NBC in September 1994, an internal research report gave the fledgling sitcom – which would go on to become one of the most popular shows of the decade and a financial pillar of the network – a less-than-passing grade, PEOPLE reports in its new issue.
In the memo, which was written by an NBC program research analyst (and was obtained by Court TV's The Smoking Gun), the pilot episode was evaluated as "weak" and "not very entertaining, clever or original."
In a viewership survey, it scored a paltry 41 out of 100 -- with 100 being seen as a surefire hit.
Furthermore, while Courteney Cox's Monica fared best with test audiences, her appeal was "well below desirable levels for a lead."
Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe and Matthew Perry's Chandler had "marginal appeal," and Jennifer Aniston's Rachel, David Schwimmer's Ross and Matt LeBlanc's Joey (now destined to have his own spinoff this fall) "scored even lower."
But wait, there's more: Adults 35 and over felt "this group did not really care about each other the way real friends would. They found the characters smug, superficial and self-absorbed."
NBC and Warner Bros., the studio that produced Friends, had no immediate comment.