Fridays: A Look Back at L.A.'s Answer to Saturday Night Live

Categories: Film and TV

The cast of Fridays
Whether you love it or hate it these days, it's still tough to compete against Saturday Night Live. Although the show certainly has seen much better and much funnier days, you still can't knock it off its perch after all these years.

The powers that be that created Fridays, an L.A.-filmed series that ran for three seasons on ABC in the early 1980s, swear up and down that they weren't out to challenge SNL, especially since it was bleeding to death on the side of the road at the time, after its acclaimed original cast had departed. The Fridays gang felt there was enough success out there for both shows.

Cast member Melanie Chartoff, whom you could consider the Tina Fey of Fridays, says, "A topical variety show about the news was not a new form. It was a very popular form. It was popular back on That Was the Week That Was [in the 1960s], and I think ABC just felt there was room for more of that on late-night television."

Now with The Best of Fridays, which is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 6 through Shout! Factory, you can relive a transitional period in comedy when ABC tried to create its version of SNL, with a West Coast sensibility.

Fridays had been in the works since 1978, when SNL was at its peak and was a much harder target to hit.

"We didn't want to compete with Saturday Night Live at all," says Fridays cast member Mark Blankfield. "We wanted more emphasis on writing skits with a beginning, middle and end, and more complete characters. SNL had some great stuff but a lot of the sketches were one-note. We never avoided the comparisons. It was the white elephant in the room. We paid attention to preconceived ideas about us."

Larry David and Melanie Chartoff on Fridays
The Fridays cast was an eclectic ensemble of newcomers. As Chartoff recalls, "They wanted relative unknowns. They didn't want names. They wanted all of us to get discovered together."

There wasn't a clear breakout star among the cast, although Michael Richards eventually would get loud cheers from the audience during the opening credits, Blankfield would move on to several major studio comedies and Larry David and Larry Charles (respectively co-creator of Seinfeld and director of Borat and Bruno) had major potential, although it took a long time for those breakthroughs to happen.

"They had a big lull after Fridays," producer John Moffitt says. "Larry David said he was so worried that he'd be homeless that he looked around various side streets in New York where he could live. He found a place, like, on 46th Street where there was a big updraft of heat underneath a grate. He planned the whole thing out, that's how unsure of himself he was after Fridays."

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