There are so many TV shows in broadcast history that make you wonder, “If they only did this, or if they only did that, it would be a success. But why they did this instead, makes me wonder.”
Such is the case with the 1977 variety TV series The Richard Pryor Show.
This is 1977. Richard Pryor is hotter than a meteor. He’s had a string of successful comedy albums, including that one about being crazy and that one about the Bicentennial, and he also had a series of blockbuster films to his credit (Blazing Saddles and Silver Streak, for instance). And he made several appearances on variety shows and talk shows, so people knew who he was and the comedy he generated.
And after a successful 1977 NBC variety special, NBC wanted to sign him for a variety show. Pryor was okay with this, as long as NBC didn’t censor him, and that the show would air at 10:00 p.m. NBC was fine with this, so Pryor started taping his shows. But when the schedule came out, NBC had slotted The Richard Pryor Show for 8:00 p.m. (right in the middle of family viewing).
And as for the censors? They sliced off the first scheduled joke in the debut Pryor broadcast.
Looks like that wasn’t the only thing they clipped. In other words, Pryor had the balls, and NBC took ’em. Along with some other stuff.
The shows aired, though, and the lineup of talent on the show was impressive. Robin Williams was a cast member, as was Sandra Bernhardt, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield and John Witherspoon.
Here’s the first episode that aired, albeit without the Pryor intro.
Three more episodes aired, which are shown below.
By the time the show’s fourth episode aired – a “roast” of Pryor by his cast members – the ratings for the show were abysmal. Pryor’s comedy did NOT work in a family viewing timeslot, and he was already chafing against NBC’s censoring of his shows. Both parties agreed to end the series after the fourth episode.
But I must tell you, the lineup of talent in this show is incredible. Across the board. This show was a groundbreaker, to the level of inspiring other variety sketch comedy shows like In Living Color, Showtime at the Apollo and Wild’n Out.
If this show had originally aired in a late-night slot, or if NBC had been more permissive with allowing some of Pryor’s sketches to go unabated, the show would be a broadcast classic. As it is, the show is a curiosity of the 1970’s – a show that could have been, but wasn’t given the chance to be.