In July 1983, If You Were a Music Fan Without MTV, NBC’s ‘Friday Night Videos’ Came to Your Rescue

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© NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection

“For many of you, Friday Night Videos will be your first experience with music video …”

This voiceover line from the July 29, 1983, series premiere episode of NBC’s Friday Night Videos may sound somewhat patronizing, but at the time it was absolutely true.

While MTV had been around almost exactly two years by that point (the network debuted Aug. 1, 1981) and had popularized the music video art form, there were still a number of households whose cable system did not yet carry that “Music Television,” as well as people who did not yet have any cable television at all.

So, while awareness of music videos may have been there, plenty of people still did not have a place to fully enjoy them.

At the time, if someone had cable and enough money to subscribe to HBO, they could have watched that premium channel’s half-hour Video Jukebox series, which had debuted not long after the MTV launch, in December 1981, and continued until December 1986. For a while early on, HBO was reaching more households than MTV was, so it was likely that more people watched music videos there, at least at first.

You can see some of Video Jukebox‘s offerings here:

For a music fan with cable television whose system carried the USA Network, Night Flight (aka “MTV for stoners”) may have been another option. That late-night series actually debuted two months before MTV’s launch, in June 1981, but it also showed many other things besides music videos, like cult B-movies, stand-up comedy and more offbeat or just flat-out weird content. (Night Flight does still exist, in a streaming incarnation.)

But those wanting to watch only music videos, and who were without cable TV (and didn’t want to always have to go over to a friend’s household who did have MTV), had to wait until July 29, 1983, and the premiere of Friday Night Videos, to finally see what the excitement was all about — even if it was only for 90 minutes (at first; later condensed to an hour) one day a week, and very late in the evening.

The show, created by Dick Ebersol, was novel enough for broadcast television that it also did appeal to those who did have MTV. There were some big-name artists and videos, and there was a fun segment called Video Vote, which pitted two artists/videos against one another to see who fans enjoyed the most (submitting their votes via a 900 number).

In 1985, Friday Night Videos even won an Emmy for Outstanding Graphic and Title Design, thanks to its very cool (and very ’80s) intro:

The fact that the show was weekly may have enhanced the excitement for some, especially younger viewers; it was kind of like waiting for a new episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live to premiere. Maybe you got together with some friends and crashed at someone’s house and watched it, or you talked about it at school the following Monday morning.

One fact that surprised me when I learned it only recently was that, as much as Friday Night Videos seems like just a relic of the ’80s, it actually ran until 2002.

It did evolve, of course, eventually having celebrity guest hosts, and incorporating other elements into its broadcast when it was retitled as simply Friday Night between 1994 and 2000. By its last year, in 2001-02, it had made its final evolution into Late Friday, with a focus on stand-up comedy.

black-and-white still from a 1990 episode of NBC's "Friday Night Videos." Seated from left to right are that episode's guest hosts, Tommy Lee, Sam Kinison and Vince Neil

© NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection

Comedian Sam Kinison (center) and Mötley Crüe members Tommy Lee (left) and Vince Neil on Friday Night Videos in 1990


But it is probably its early ’80s heyday that most people associate with Friday Night Videos.

This October 1983 installment is a good example of what was regularly featured on the show during those initial days:

Video Countdown — Top 10 Songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart Week of July 23, 1983

Friday Night Videos and its like may no longer exist, but we’re throwing a little video party of our own that you can watch on Friday night — or any other night.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Friday Night Videos‘ debut on July 29, 1983, here is a music video countdown for the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart the week of July 23, 1983, just ahead of FNV‘s debut on July 29.

No. 10: “She Works Hard for the Money” — Donna Summer (ninth week on chart)

No. 9: “Stand Back” — Stevie Nicks (eighth week on chart)

No. 8: “Is There Something I Should Know?” — Duran Duran (eighth week on chart)

No. 7: “Our House” — Madness (12th week on chart)

No. 6: “Come Dancing” — The Kinks (12th week on chart)

No. 5: “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” — Michael Jackson (ninth week on chart)

No. 4: “Never Gonna Let You Go” — Sérgio Mendes (15th week on chart)

No. 3: “Flashdance… What a Feeling” — Irene Cara (17th week on chart)

No. 2: “Electric Avenue” — Eddy Grant (15th week on chart)

No. 1: “Every Breath You Take” — The Police (eighth week on chart)