Richard Pryor gets a variety show but it lasts for just 4 episodes: Part 7

Network executives clashed with him about the show's direction. He expressed his frustration over its cancellation in a 1979 interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters.
7:30 | 01/17/20

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Transcript for Richard Pryor gets a variety show but it lasts for just 4 episodes: Part 7
What a business. Comedy is bigger than ever. There are now some 260 comedy clubs around the country. Yet the comedy store remains one of the most important. Michael dukakis! Sounds like some kind of damn disease, doesn't it? In the '70s, comedy became the rock 'N' roll of that era. Improv was beginning to blow up. Places like the comedy store were becoming go-to places in the cultural pantheon. You stand in that back hallway there, and then the next comic goes on, and they roar. You got Richard Pryor. It was Jimmie walker. You had Steve martin, robin Williams. Then you go let me. No, they're for the baby. And all these people were just blasting out of the comedy store, and they were getting, like, sitcoms. And they were becoming big stars of their time. It felt important. You know, it felt like this was the voice of the people. America was changing, becoming more diverse, so the networks wanted to reach out and grab on to this new thing that was Richard Pryor. Because his star was so big and growing. So I always hung out at the comedy store, and I followed him out the parking lot, and he turns around and says, what do you want? I said, will you do a TV special? He said, sell it. And he walked away. That was it. Up to now we've painted a picture of Pryor being very in tune with the culture, right, and pushing the envelope just enough that networks are responding to him. Like any entertainer, he's going to get ahead of because he's running faster than the network is ready to run behind him. None of us would believe at that time that Richard Pryor was ever going to be on television. That little box couldn't hold Richard Pryor. And what happens is, like, one of the most beautiful and bizarre experiments in all of TV history. "The Richard Pryor show" was going to be a TV series. It was a variety show. It was a stellar cast of comedians. You had Sandra Bernhard. You had robin Williams. You got John Witherspoon. You got me. You got Marsha Warfield. It was comedy gladiator school. Pryor really insisted that the writers' room would be diverse, and so what you see on TV is a reflection of that, not just in the cast, but in the kinds of stories that they're doing. You have the right to an attorney. All right, let's go. They wanted full autonomy. Networks do not give full autonomy. Does not happen. You bought a controversial entertainer with a voice. I think NBC would naturally be a little nervous they were going to push the boundaries in primetime. There's a reason they're called the suits and everybody wears a suit. Because that's what they are. We know that's why we're on. And Richard said, "You don't know me, okay?" Even before the show came out, there was a media buzz about what "The Richard Pryor show" was going to be. Were you going to get the real uncensored Richard Pryor? They were afraid of him. They really were. I didn't realize at the time, but they didn't know how to handle him. That became a big part of the drama of the show, was Richard's war with the network. The most famous skit in that show never even aired. So, here's the opening. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to "The Richard Pryor show." The scene when he was going to open the show was like throwing a hand grenade into a room full of people. You know, there's a lot of things written about me. People wondering if I'm gonna have a show. He goes, "If you do television, you have to give up everything." Well, look at me. I'm standing here naked. I've given up absolutely nothing. Head to toe, no genitalia. So, enjoy the show. You know, in the '70s? I mean, that's a slap that they just had a hard time accepting. But what I wanted to do was have a point of view. And anybody's point of view is obscene unless somebody can censor it. You ask any one of these human beings here. Yourself. You say what you want to say. You can't censor people's stuff, man. You can't censor the truth. Due to technical difficulties, we cannot continue to bring you the audio portion of "The Richard Pryor show." However, I'm an NBC spokesman, and I will be happy to tell you what Mr. Pryor is saying. "I'm just pleased as punch to be continuing on as part of the NBC family." You have no idea what's going to come at you. One of the first skits we did was Richard Pryor being the first black president. Then, just having him stand there as the president of the United States was already the joke. Mr. President, since you've become president, you've been seen and photographed on the arms of white women. Ooh! Will this continue? MM. As long as I can keep it up. Hey, boy, over here. You don't want me. He's so good at voices that he can immediately make whatever this object is feel like a living character. Touch me, I'll blow all your fingers off. Those guns talking to him, when we did it, it was 1977. Insane. That was his idea. People enjoy killing each other. You put that on TV today, NRA would go nuts. I don't think you'd get on TV. Well, good night, and see you next week. The freedom of us being in that setting and going there with these kinds of things, that probably will never happen again in the history of television. So, the show lasts for four episodes. The ratings were not good. And we were against "Laverne and Shirley" and "Happy days." Those are the shows that network TV could marry. But they wanted to date Richard Pryor. I don't know how or why it ended, and Richard told me, you en why, I walked. Yes, I'm very angry. I'm angry because I have to ask people, may I do this? May I do this kind of script? May I say this kind of joke? But don't we all, to a degree in life, have to do that? I don't know what you have to do, and that's not my problem. I'm talking about what makes me angry is the fact that, across the board, in my mind, there's nobody I've ever met in the business of, like, comedy who is any more brilliant than me. And I will never get the recognition for what I do. He was torn, torn about stuff, I guess. Torn in some way. He wanted to be embraced by his culture. He was a huge talent that could just go anywhere, and yet that culture was the antithesis of who he was in his most vulnerable self. Richard carried an immense amount of tamped down personal rage.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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