Word went out this morning from New Orleans & Company, the city's official tourism arm, that a replica of a couch featured on the 25-year-old TV show "Friends" would be placed in Jackson Square:
In just a few hours the @FriendsTV couch will land in Jackson Square! We're kicking off the celebration Nola-style with a second line at 1:30pm CST! 🎺🎷☂️ More details: https://t.co/BGLftk7Kwc #Friends25 pic.twitter.com/21NXQQgjxH— Visit New Orleans (@VisitNewOrleans) September 19, 2019
(Actually, it was Washington Artillery Park, so the Andrew Jackson statue didn't have to share space with a replica of a Hollywood set piece once graced by Jennifer Aniston's rump.)
"In celebration of 25 years of Friends, the iconic orange couch is making its way to a landmark near you. Of course, New Orleans is a stop along its trail. From Sept. 19-22, the French Quarter's Washington Artillery Park will feature a replica of the Friends couch for fabulous photo ops and fun. A brass band second line featuring umbrellas in the Friends’ colors will kick off the celebration.
"To further incorporate New Orleans culture into the set, branded materials from the city’s famous coffee shop, Café du Monde, will be placed on the coffee table. Additionally, a George Rodrigue reproduction provided by Rodrigue Studios will be on display, tying into the artist's Blue Dog paintings that hung in Central Perk during several seasons of the show."
At 1:30 p.m., members of the Young PinStripe Brass Band were idling near Cafe Du Monde, waiting to lead the, er, second line. The couch sat under a white tent, waiting for the promised "fabulous photo ops and fun." It was plastic and looked nothing like the fabric one on the show.
Tourism officials outnumbered "Friends" furniture aficionados, but anyone who chose to sit down on it for a photo got a postcard-perfect shot of St. Louis Cathedral in the background.
I had two questions for New Orleans & Company: Did any money change hands with Warner Brothers, which owns the still-lucrative show?
No, said Kristen Loflin, communications and marketing manager for New Orleans & Company. "Warner Brothers approached us."
But why New Orleans? What did New Orleans possibly have to do with "Friends"?
Loflin explained that a George Rodrigue Blue Dog painting hung in the coffee shop featured on the show — and indeed, there was a Blue Dog poster adjacent to the couch (which will be there for you, even if it hasn't been your day, your week, your month or even your year, at Washington Artillery Park through the weekend).
After a few minutes, tourism officials gathered behind a cortege of New Orleans Police Department motorcycle cops and began a fake second line through the Quarter, waving umbrellas. Tourists watched and took pictures, but didn't join in.
My second question wasn't for the tourism board, but was more existential: Why are we doing this?
Why are we using New Orleans' most magnificent public space as a free backdrop for an entertainment conglomerate?
Wouldn't any visitor be happy to get a photo of something more real, something lasting, something centuries-old, something quintessentially New Orleans?
Is it better or worse that Warner Brothers didn't have to pay the city for all this free publicity?
Why does New Orleans so often not recognize its own worth and beauty?
Most of all:
Why do we play ourselves so cheap so often?