If you're old enough, you're grinning. If you're not, today's the day you learn about the late-night network answer to MTV, NBC's Friday Night Videos.
It's hard to believe now, but back in the early 80s, there were people who just didn't have cable TV. Even stranger, there were some cable companies who didn't even carry it. That I want my MTV campaign wasn't just marketing, it was an honest to goodness plea for survival. Of course, a plea like that always attracts scavengers, and out of that scavenging, Friday Night Videos was born. It was always nestled in that place between "voice of a generation" and "corporate Hail Mary" and maybe that's why it survived to the very edge of the 20th Century, even if nobody really noticed. After the jump, let's all remember Friday Night Videos together.
It cost NBC a ton of money to secure it, but their first non-cable premiere of the Thriller video was the biggest thing ever for network TV. Timed to play during the holiday weekend when the kids were out of school, Thriller made a generation finally stay up post-Carson, and there's a good chance it opened the world of Late Night television to those impressionable young minds. Friday Night Videos was almost immediately a major video player.
Of course, it was still NBC, so you never really saw anything daring. To learn about the more interesting music, you had to flip over to Night Flight. But if you wanted to see the video for that hit song you'd sing in the car or the one your girlfriend loved, the top-forty powerhouse of Friday Night Videos had you covered. Naturally, you'd also have to deal with stuff you probably hated, but that was just part of the magic. You'd never know what they'd serve you next.
One thing Friday Night Videos excelled at was covering all the bases. MTV divided up into blocks, so you'd get Yo! MTV Raps after school and Headbanger's Ball late at night, and it was easy to pick and choose your genre and forget the rest, but Friday Night Videos had only a few hours to show everything under the sun. They'd cram in new McCartney, old Doors, some Duran Duran, a little Michael Jackson, then close out with Air Supply. You might not enjoy it all, but you'd certainly know the music out there... unless it was something like Husker Du. But c'mon, Friday Night Videos was a top 40 kinda show. And nobody was playing Husker Du in the 80s.
Do you recognize these two non-singing members of Journey? The idea to include interviews instead of VJs really set Friday Night Videos apart from MTV. MTV could offer an in-studio guest for a few minutes, occasionally, but Friday Night Videos had NBC money and network ratings (and it also didn't hurt that the company owned radio stations in major markets) so they could get the artists to come in and host. You'd first see words from Bowie or Sting scattered between the videos, and once that caught on, you'd see musicians as real hosts for the entire show. When Ozzy and Dr. Ruth hosted the show, it was a huge deal, and some parent groups even complained. But he was charming and funny, and today? The guy's doing phone commercials!
After Letterman added a Friday show, Friday Night Videos got pushed back a bit later. The new timeslot kept on with the weekly hosts, choosing mostly actors and comedians, maybe in an attempt to compete with shows like Arsenio Hall. The hosts got more daring, and began to take precedence over the videos.
By the 90s, more houses had cable. Since more kids were watching MTV's newer programs. NBC decided to follow these trends themselves by adding a regular comedian and in-studio performances. Because there was only so much room in the schedule, every new change meant less time to show the videos and that meant some fans started to move away from the show... but some still stayed around, and the show just kept on going. Such was the power of the Friday Night Videos brand.
How many young professionals stayed up one Friday night after Conan, and said "Wow, is that show still on?" Despite all the changes, Friday Night Videos lasted until Carson Daily took over the slot, and the final Friday Night Videos aired on December 29th, 2000, on the very last Friday of the 20th Century. Naturally we can't confirm that ourselves because who was still watching Friday Night Videos once Napster showed up? If you wanted a video in the year 2000, you just downloaded it! But it's still nice to know the show survived all those years. Kinda like finding your old Tamagotchi and seeing it's just barely alive. It warms the heart to know it carried on without you!
If you were up late enough to see the Friday Night Video credits, you'd discovered a whole new world. Maybe some late movie or sitcom, or maybe just the local sign offs. Remember, back then, everybody from HBO to Nickelodeon eventually went to bed. To see those credits was to violate all the rules of bedtime. You were grown-up at last!
Today we take for granted that all we have to do is hit Google to see any crazy video we want but pre-internet, information wasn't so easy to find. If you're old enough, you've got fond memories of learning music from Friday Night Videos and if you're not... well, maybe you'll still enjoy laughing at the commercials. But for those of us who grew up without cable, Friday Night Videos was huge. So why not tell us your late night story in the comments below?