From Saturday Night Live to Chappell’s Show, sketch comedy shows have always been breeding ground for fresh, young talent looking to subvert the mainstream in new, exciting ways. Fridays was ABC’s attempt at carving out its own territory in the genre.
Shout! Factory has just released The Best of Fridays in a 5-disc DVD set, which includes 16 episodes from its three-season run from 1980-1982. The show, which had higher ratings than SNL by the time it as canceled, starred Mark Blankfield, Maryedith Burrell, Melanie Chartoff, Darrow Igus, Brandis Kemp, Bruce Mahler, John Roarke and most notably Larry David and Michael Richards pre-Seinfeld fame. Even though Fridays made it clear from their opening sketch that they were not attempting to imitate Saturday Night Live, but rather stand on its own and have a unique voice, the comparisons are inevitable. Despite being filmed in Los Angeles (not New York) and on Fridays (not Saturdays), you have the same basic ingredients: live, satirical sketches, fake news, commercial parodies, and musical guests. Sometimes you get magic and sometimes you just miss the mark completely. Much of the material is topical and political to the era that at times might alienate a younger audience new to the series, but older viewers are sure to feel certain nostalgia.
Highlights from the series are featured in the following pages. -->
If your ultimate goal is to be radical and provoke reactions, whether positive or negative, sometimes you can judge your success by the number of people you offend–in only its third episode, Fridays did just that. “Women Who Spit,” featuring the three women cast members in a sketch where they appear in a "news program discussion" in which they, well, spit at every opportunity, is cited as one of the reasons several network affiliates decided to drop the show. While some people consider women spitting the epitome of indecency others applauded these women for pushing boundaries.
One of the other clips cited for being too controversial for affiliates was the “Diner of The Living Dead,” which seems quite tame by today’s standards. Watch the clip below and judge for yourself.
Fridays routinely broke the fourth wall in sketches and either addressed or interacted directly with the audience. One gem in the series is the “Television” sketch where the characters spin off into a commentary on the state of television.
Political and Ambitious
“The Ronnie Horror Picture Show” sketch deserves special attention for taking on such ambitious terrain. Clocking in at 17+ minutes, John Roarke delivers an impressive Ronald Reagan, who had just been elected president, and the entire cast takes on The Rocky Horror Picture Show complete with song and dance numbers.
Like SNL, Fridays had noteworthy musical performances throughout the series. Highlights include The Clash making their first US appearance, Devo, Pat Benatar, and KISS, among others.
By its second season, Fridays introduced guest hosts and cameos including appearances by George Carlin, William Shatner, Billy Crystal, and Valerie Harper. Performance artist Andy Kaufman made several guest appearances on the show, including the notorious sketch referred to as “The Incident.” During the last sketch of the show, titled “Marijuana,” characters at a restaurant are supposed to play stoned. When it was Kaufman’s turn, he simply broke character and said he couldn’t "act stoned" and refused to play along, agitating the other actors in the sketch. A frustrated Michael Richards walks off set only to come back and throw the cue cards in Andy’s lap, setting off what appears to be the beginning of a brawl. Crew members rushed the stage thinking punches were going to start flying between Kaufman and writer/announcer Jack Burns. As it turns out the whole incident was planned, but only a handful of the actors and producers knew about it, leaving the audience (and part of the cast) wondering what just happened and garnering the show abundant press. The sad part is that, even though most episodes on the box set include the musical guests, for some reason this particular episode doesn't include that week's band, which was none other than SA's own Sir Douglas Quintet.
See “The Incident” and Kaufman’s “Apology,” which aired the next week, in the clips below.
For some reason, the episode doesn't include the appearance by SA's own Sir Douglas Quintet, but don't worry: here it is.
The DVD set also contains bonus features including a cast reunion (minus Larry David), and producers and actors revealing what really happened in “The Andy Kaufman Incident.”