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AWAITING THE END OF A TV ERA LOCAL FANS GEARING UP FOR 'FRIENDS' FINALE.

Byline: Patricia Farrell Aidem Staff Writer

After crying through tonight's two-hour ``Friends'' finale, Janet Bomyea expects to rehash it online with her own friends.

Bomyea's gal pals are scattered throughout the state and beyond, but through e-mail rather than impromptu gatherings at Central Perk or around Monica's kitchen table with its mismatched chairs, they are bonded by shared years and experiences - and by ``Friends.''

What NBC's blockbuster sitcom did in its decade in prime time was make us think about friends - about the ones we have or those we wish we had. Bowing out at the height of its popularity, ``Friends'' - silly and sappy and filled with beautiful people - just might have left us with a message.

``I love the camaraderie between the friends - it's something that you can identify with,'' said makeup artist Stacy Stern, while grabbing a quick cup of coffee this week at Lulu's Beehive in Studio City. ``And each character is so different, you see yourself.

``Some days you can feel like a Phoebe - like when she was running in the park, so carefree, not caring what anyone thought. Or maybe you're a Rachel, trying to fit in.''

Several 20- and 30-somethings, who were relaxing at San Fernando Valley coffee bars as the countdown ticked toward tonight's finale, said they would miss what had become for many a Thursday night tradition.

Members of this abstract coffee klatch are the targets of the advertisers paying some $2 million to air a 30-second spot on tonight's broadcast. Tech giant Hewlett-Packard is among those set to unveil new commercials during the ``Friends'' finale.

Dancers Lindsay Janisse, 20; Megan Hiratzka, 20; and Sari Thomas, 24, sat on the Starbucks patio in North Hollywood reminiscing about a show that will share a special place in the TV archives with classics like ``M*A*S*H,'' ``Cheers'' and ``Seinfeld.''

``I like the fact that they're all so different, yet they have respect for the differences and that keeps them together,'' Thomas said.

Fans said the show endured because there was not a star, but an ensemble of stars that were irresistible and surprisingly real. And they identified with ``Friends.''

``I would be Phoebe,'' said Pierre Stooss, sipping coffee with friend Melissa Tuchman - a definite Rachel.

The pair, who met at a New York acting school, were cozy Wednesday on a couch at Jennifer's Coffee Connection in Studio City. They drank from oversized cups and could very well have blended into the ``Friends'' set.

``It's the end of an era,'' Tuchman said. ``I think it was so popular because all of them stayed together the whole time. Nobody left the show. I think that means a lot to fans.''

Bomyea liked that the characters matured over the decade. The show, she said, stayed fresh as the six young adults moved ahead in careers and in relationships, yet remained close.

``It was interesting to see how the characters developed over the years,'' she said. ``It wasn't the same old thing even though they stayed together.''

``Friends,'' broadcast at 8 p.m., probably crossed a lot of family hour lines with its sexual overtones. But fans say the sex jokes, the bathroom jokes, even the gay jokes, were really funny and light enough to keep viewers.

``It was funny; it wasn't vulgar,'' Bomyea said. ``It didn't take itself too seriously.''

Working at her laptop at the North Hollywood Starbucks, Elizabeth Hoang, 26, recalled a fat Monica hoping to lose her virginity to Chandler in a fantasy episode as her favorite. But it was the friendships among the six that kept her watching over the years.

``I wish I had friends like that,'' she said. ``I think the end leaves us with a desire to really cherish our friends.''

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Pierre Stooss and Melissa Tuchman share memories of NBC's ``Friends'' at a Studio City coffeehouse.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 6, 2004
Words:646
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