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Fridays is an ABC network late-night live comedy show which aired from April 11, 1980 to April 23, 1982, lasting for three seasons & 58 episodes.
"Fridays" was ABC's attempt to duplicate the success of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (which, at the time, was in its fifth and final season featuring the original "Not Ready for Primetime" cast along with several writers & SNL band leader at the time, Paul Shaffer) who had been promoted to feature player status, as well as newcomer Harry Shearer.
Like "SNL", the show featured popular musical guests and, beginning in the second season, celebrity guest hosts (some of which appeared on SNL before and after "Fridays" aired, such as Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, William Shatner, Mark Hamill and George Carlin).
The show featured many recurring characters and sketches, short films, and a parody news segment called Friday Edition, with Melanie Chartoff as the anchor (later joined by Rich Hall in seasons two and three).
Veteran comedian Jack Burns served as show announcer and made on-screen appearances on the show.
Initially, the show was compared unfavorably to "Saturday Night Live" as a weak clone that resorted to shock humor for laughs.
The show's third episode (which originally aired on April 25, 1980) was the last episode to air on some affiliates due to objectionable content concerning zombie gore and cannibalism ("Diner of the Living Dead"), disgusting habits ("Women Who Spit"), and blasphemous humor ("The Inflatable Nun").
When the sixth season of "Saturday Night Live" was met with negative reviews and low ratings over the new cast, new writers, and new showrunner Jean Doumanian, critics who once panned "Fridays" praised it, citing the show as being sharper, edgier and funnier than "Saturday Night Live" at the time.
Some critics attributed this to the sprawling, ambitious, and often pointed sociopolitical and situational sketches.
Some examples of this include: a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope buddy comedy parody about the United States' dealings with El Salvador ("Road to El Salvador"); a Close Encounters of the Third Kind parody about refugees from an impoverished Central American country mistaking a Playboy magazine location scout and an American military invasion for extraterrestrials coming to save them ("Close Encounters of the Third World"); a Marx Brothers parody of Iran's revolution ("A Night in Tehran"); Palestinian radio DJs (played by Bruce Mahler and episode guest star George Carlin) broadcasting a morning show from a P.L.O. bunker ("K.P.L.O"); a live-action Robert Altman Popeye movie parody with Popeye (Mark Blankfield) and a band of first-wave hippies fighting back against a fascist regime led by Bluto ("Popeye's Got a Brand New Bag"); the US Founding Fathers worrying that the Second Amendment ("The Right to Bear Arms") will be abused in the future while ignoring suggestions for amendments granting equal rights to women and African-Americans; a variety show run by the Moral Majority ("The Moral Majority Comedy Hour"); a parody of Altered States where Ronald Reagan (John Roarke) uses sensory deprivation and psychedelic mushrooms to find a way to bring America back to its glory days, but ends up transforming himself into Richard Nixon ("Altered Statesman"); a spaghetti western centered on the creationism vs. evolution argument featuring Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci ("A Fist Full of Darwin"), and, in what's considered the show's magnum opus, a 17-minute parody of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Ronald Reagan (John Roarke) as Tim Curry's Dr. Frank N. Furter creating the perfect Republican, who turns out to be a militant black man who leads Reagan's followers in a revolution.
Unusual for a sketch comedy series at the time, "Fridays" occasionally featured serious interludes and dramatic sketches, such as a segment which aired soon after the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan involving all nine of the cast members recalling where they were at the time of previous assassinations and attempts, and a sketch where a punk rocker (Michael Richards) visits his father (John Roarke) who rejects him by yelling, "Who are you?" and "I have no son!".
After a long, heartfelt speech from the punk about how his father should accept that he's from a different generation and learn to love him, the punk discovers that the old man was right: they aren't father and son because they have different hair colors.
From its inception, Fridays embraced the emerging new wave rock music scene and its associated culture to a greater extent than "Saturday Night Live" did at the time, widely incorporating it into their selection of musical guests, hosts and sketches. Unlike "SNL", "Fridays" did not have a show band on set.
Pop art drawings were displayed and accompanied with a fuzz heavy electric guitar solo whenever the show went to and came back from commercial breaks, though season one featured cartoons by B. Kliban with some kind of pun as the punchline.
The Andy Kaufman incident
On the February 20, 1981 episode, Andy Kaufman was the host.
During a sketch about couples at dinner sneaking away to the bathroom to smoke marijuana, Kaufman, who was known for causing trouble on live television, broke character and refused to read his lines (saying "I can't play stoned"). Michael Richards got up from the table, grabbed the cue cards and threw them down on the table in front of Kaufman, who responded by throwing a glass of water on Richards.
Some of the show's cast and crew members became angry and a small brawl broke out on stage. Since the show was broadcast live, home viewers were able to see most of these events transpire until the network cut the cameras off.
Kaufman returned the following week in a taped apology to home viewers. The incident was planned by Kaufman, who concocted it with his sidekick Zmuda, and was meant as a prank. The only individuals aware of the plan were producer/director Moffitt, producer/announcer Burns, and the three comedians acting in the sketch along with Kaufman: Richards, Chartoff and Burrell.
This incident was reenacted in the 1999 film, "Man on the Moon" starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman, Bob Zmuda as Burns, Norm Macdonald as Richards, Caroline Rhea as Chartoff and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Burrell.
"Fridays" ended in 1982 following ABC's decision to expand "Nightline" to five nights a week, which moved the show to air at midnight instead of 11:30pm.
One final attempt was made by ABC to save the show by putting it on in prime time. The episode (broadcast on April 23, 1982) was scheduled against "Dallas" which did nothing to help the show's moribund ratings and it was promptly canceled.