Nothing certain about 'Friends' finale

— A few things about "Friends" are certain: Rachel will have her baby at the end of this season, during May sweeps. And the top-rated show will return for one final season, its ninth, in the fall.

Looking past that � to the series finale in May 2003, for instance � is something the show's creators haven't even done yet.

"I think the end will be on our minds as we begin next season," says Marta Kauffman, who executive produces the series with Kevin Bright and David Crane.

"Every year we say this is the one where we're going plan the whole thing out," Crane adds. "But then we never do." That looseness allows for storylines the writers didn't foresee to become part of the show, like Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) secret crush on Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).

The Rachel-Joey story, which Kauffman calls one of many "happy accidents," wasn't part of the plan for this season, the executive producer trio says. But it's become a focus of "Friends" in recent weeks, an out-of-left-field development that has kept loyal viewers buzzing and helped keep the show at the top of the Nielsen ratings this season.

The three are tight-lipped about the resolution of the Joey-Rachel issue, further complicated by the fact that Rachel is pregnant with the child of her ex, Ross (David Schwimmer). They do say that some closure will come in the next few episodes.

Kauffman admits that the love triangle currently driving "Friends" has a soap-opera quality to it, but such storylines won't overwhelm the comedy. "I don't think suds is what we're going for," she says, "but once we got onto the Joey-Rachel story, we wanted to play it through to the end."

Crane does offer a few tidbits for the rest of this season. Alec Baldwin and James Le Gros will do guest stints as men in Phoebe's (Lisa Kudrow) life, and Rachel will indeed have her baby in the season finale.

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