Friday Night Videos premiered in July 1983. Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go's appeared in the first episode. The NBC show, initially a 90-minute program, offered more musical variety than MTV, which, despite its progressive reputation, was notorious for skewing towards largely white acts. Friday Night Videos, while still largely skewing towards Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel and their ilk, featured more R&B. The Gap Band featured in an early episode. Months later, Stevie Wonder dropped in for an interview.
The show's most clever hook was its Video Vote segment, a head-to-head battle of the hottest videos of the week. As you can see here, one early match pitted Hall & Oates' "Maneater" against "One Thing Leads to Another" by the Fixx. Viewers dialed 1-900 numbers to cast their votes. And if that battle of bouncy blond bangs was not enough of a lure, callers could win free T-shirt "every 15 seconds during voting."
As you can see from the tally, at least 76,000 viewers cast a vote, and that was excluding the West Coast. Those kinds of numbers likely outpaced MTV's audience. At the end of 1983, Friday Night Videos staged an ultimate best-of-the-year melee. ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" came out the winner.
Over the years, the show welcomed a diverse and sometimes surreal mix of celebrity guests. The cast of The Facts of Life, Yoko Ono, Ozzy Osbourne, Jerry Seinfeld, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Pee Wee Herman, Jesse "the Body" Ventura and Tiffani Amber Thiessen stopped by. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned up with Jay Leno. Stars from Cheers, Miami Vice, Family Ties and Newhart squeezed in between clips of Quiet Riot and the Stray Cats.
Friday Night Videos continued to air until 2002, eventually turning to the kooky Tom Kenny, the eventual voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, as host. By then, thanks to the growth of cable and its non-music programming, MTV had ballooned into the juggernaut of teen pop culture. And the FTC had cracked down on costly 1-900 numbers aiming at teens. MTV may have won the war, but karma was just around the corner under the name of YouTube.