About two weeks ago my wife and I started out a Friday evening watching a repeat of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and ended up staying up long enough to finish Late Night with Seth Meyer, and briefly into Last Call with Carson Daly after that. I know it doesn’t sound like much to lounge around on the couch and watch 2 ½ hours of TV, but on a Friday evening after a long week it’s a major triumph for the parents of two, one of which is a toddler, to get that far. For me personally it’s not always a huge deal to stay up that late on Fridays, after all my 8-bit Fridays articles are based on the fact that I do, sometimes. What is unusual though is for me not to turn on a video game, Netflix, or YouTube after Seth Meyers goes through his SNL type news intro at the beginning of his show. Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I don’t like Seth Meyers or his show, but around Midnight I get the television to myself as my wife and eldest son usually go to bed.
Of course I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that I’m not just here to talk about some random night my wife and I stayed up late together watching mainstream talk/comedy shows. Rather, I wanted to talk about memories I have from late night TV when being up till 1 or 1:30 AM watching talk shows was a normal occurrence for me. I also wanted to talk about the unique history of the late evening talk show scene especially since it’s gotten pretty muddled in the past few years starting with The Tonight Show fiasco between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.
To me the golden era for late evening talk shows was when I was in high school during the mid-90’s. Of course this same era was also at the time of a lot of changes, many of which still affect the environment of late evening talk shows till this day. You see the week I started my Freshmen year of high school was the same week Jay Leno would take over The Tonight Show, and by that I mean the first time from Johnny Carson. If you remember anything about that era you’ll probably remember that Carson had his funny moments, but he had gotten a little outdated by the late 80’s. Its at this point that The Tonight Show had numerous “guest hosts” some of which, like Leno, were successful stand-up comedians. Many of us had our suspicions that these “guest hosts”, were NBC’s way of auditioning a replacement for Carson. That suspicion was later found to be correct when Leno, who was the most prominent of these “guest hosts”, was announced as the replacement for the retiring Carson.
Of course this caused some hard feelings at NBC since then Late Night host David Letterman, was promised the role of The Tonight Shows host upon Johnny Carsons retirement. So Letterman left NBC for CBS about a year later to host The Late Show, since at that point and time CBS had no programs, talk, news or otherwise to really compete with NBC, or ABC. So with all that said by late 1993 on a weekday night at 10:35 PM (CT) you could watch Leno on NBC, Letterman on CBS, or Nightline on ABC. By 11:35 though the world looked a lot different as former SNL, and The Simpsons writer Conan O’Brien now hosted Late Night, while CBS, and ABC fell off into an oblivion of repeated 10PM local newscasts, sports shows, boring talk shows, or whatever else filled the late night void. Things got even more interesting after 12:30, since at that time Monday through Thursday you could watch Later with Bob Costas, and on Fridays catch Friday Night Videos.
Remembering Friday Night Videos
Friday Night Videos was pretty interesting to see in 1993. Anyone who lived in the 80’s and who didn’t perhaps have access to MTV, could tell you the importance and nostalgia of FNV. Started in 1983 and ending in 2000 (yes, 2000) Friday Night Videos was, for a lot of us, a huge kick off to the weekend as teens, and an important connection to the music videos associated with the popular acts and music of any given time. As a child of the 80’s I can remember my older teenage sister staying up late on Fridays to watch FNV, and I can remember managing to stay up late a few times myself and watch it with her, and seeing some of those truly iconic videos of the 80’s like, Take On Me by A-Ha. As a teen myself I can remember catching it a few times in the 90’s but all I can take away from it is Boom Shake the Room by Will Smith & Jazzy Jeff, and Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovich, although I’m sure I saw some better stuff.
Essentially, FNV was created as NBC’s answer to MTV, and as a way of getting into the music video craze of the early to mid-80’s. It also gave NBC a chance at the teen demographic, as well as the bragging rights of having the premier music video show on standard airwaves. Despite its teen demographics, and for coming on so late the show had excellent production quality which actually garnered a few Emmy’s. In its heyday the standard show featured a guest host of the week, usually these were music stars with videos of their own to show, actors in current NBC shows, or even movie stars plugging upcoming films. When not featuring a celebrity guest host the show had a normal host, one notably of which was Tom Kenny (voice of Sponge Bob). As for the videos themselves they were usually broken down by popularity from lowest to highest along the same format as a radio DJ doing a weeks top 40 show would, although at most the show covered the top 20.
At the height of its popularity FNV was so successful that its ratings actually boosted Letterman’s Late Night which aired immediately before it and grew his fan base, since his show was a little more youthful and edgier than that of Johnny Carson. Friday Night Videos also received a spin off with the short lived Saturday Morning Videos (although FNV’s 12:30 AM air time was technically Saturday morning), that aired after Saturday morning cartoons for two seasons. Think of new episodes of the Saved By the Bell on Saturday mornings being followed by new music videos of the same era.
Of course by 2000 even MTV was showing fewer music videos, and the internet began to give music fans access to music videos through performer, and record label websites as well as other areas online before the advent of YouTube. So as of the first Friday in 2001 Friday Night Videos would be no more. Ironically if you stay up till 12:30 AM central time on a Friday now you can watch former MTV Total Request Live host Carson Daly on his show Last Call. Considering TRL was once one of MTV’s most popular music video shows and Daly its most well known host, it seems fitting that Friday Night Videos old spot is now occupied by him.
Of course watching Daly host the low key Last Call, I have to ask myself if the era of music videos is dead. There use to be a time when you would hear a song on the radio, and turn to friends and ask them “did you see the video for this?”. Today I swear it’s mostly us Gen Xer’s and early Millennial’s that still watch music videos. But even though I can go right to a specific video now without sitting through a litany of others I don’t want to watch, shows like TRL, and more importantly Friday Night Videos will always define what it was to experience music videos.