February 20, 2016

PRYOR'S PLACE

PRYOR’S PLACE
(CBS, September 15-December 8, 1984)


Sid & Marty Krofft Productions

MAIN CAST:
Richard Pryor – Richard Pryor, various
Akili Prince – Little Richie Pryor
Cliffy Magee – Wally
Danny Nucci – Freddy
Tony Cox – Allen
Keland Love – Meatrack
Leanne Richelle – Patty
Michael Sheehan – Puppeteer

            Richard Pryor was a stand-up comedian who didn’t shy away from highlighting social injustices in his routines with a liberal amount of profanity.

Pryor sharing an anecdote.

            Beginning in New York in 1963, Pryor’s act was more reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s middlebrow routine using safe material (at the behest of his early advisors). Although he found success and began appearing on television with this style, in 1967 he had a self-described “epiphany” after feeling creatively stifled and began incorporating profanity into his act. In 1969 he moved to California where he continued releasing comedy albums and began writing for televisions shows such as Sanford and Son, The Flip Wilson Show and Lily Tomlin’s 1973 special for which he won an Emmy Award. While engaging in a successful movie career, he also tried to break into mainstream television with an appearance on Saturday Night Live.



            In 1977, Pryor received his own show, The Richard Pryor Show, on NBC. However, it was cancelled after only four episodes due to the audience’s inability to handle his controversial subject matter and Pyror’s unwillingness to tame things down for network censors. However, in 1983, Sid and Marty Krofft had gotten the idea that Pryor could find additional success on Saturday morning television, much like Cosby had with Fat Albert, and approached CBS. CBS agreed to it if they could land Pryor, as well as get the rerun rights to the Krofftt’s previous hit The Land of the Lost. At the time, Pryor was focusing on more family-oriented projects as part of an effort to clean himself up after having set himself on fire in 1980 while freebasing cocaine. That shift in his focus, and his love of children (not to mention a very persuasive Marty Krofft) led Pryor to agree to do the show.

Living bread and anthropomorphic rats populate Pryor's Place.

            Pryor’s Place was an urban version of Sesame Street. It starred real people interacting with puppets (a pair of rats and living baked goods to name a few) to teach life lessons to children. However, the topics were far edgier as they included shoplifting, divorce and child abuse, amongst others. The set was modeled after the neighborhood where Pryor grew up, accenting the anecdotes Pryor would share with the audience (which were sanitized for network television, more than biographical) that set the theme for the episode to follow. Pryor, along with playing himself, starred as a variety of characters including a Rastafarian and a wino character he previously employed on stage. Akili Prince played Pryor’s younger self, whom the televised adventures would usually focus around. The show featured sketches and musical numbers written by long-time Pryor collaborator Paul Mooney with Lorne Frohman and Mark Evanier. Pryor’s direct involvement behind the scenes was limited due to other ongoing projects dominating his focus, but he was dedicated to doing something positive for children and put his all into his time on set.

CBS' 1984 Saturday morning ad with Pryor front and center.

            CBS was banking heavily on the success of Pryor’s Place. So much so, that they prominently displayed Pryor on their ads for their 1984 line-up and made it the central focus of a preview show the night of Friday, September 14th. Saturday’s the Place was written and co-produced by Evanier, hosted by Joyce DeWitt and featured Howie Mandel (who starred in Muppet Babies at the time) and Ted Knight. The special showed clips from Place, along with other new CBS offerings such as Muppet Babies, Dungeons and Dragons, The Get Along Gang and Saturday Supercade. It officially debuted on Saturday, September 15th with a theme song by Ray Parker, Jr., who also appeared in the intro and an episode. Parker had enjoyed success earlier in the year with his smash hit “Ghostbusters”.



            The series employed a wide list of who’s who in celebrity guest stars. However, rather than just being a ratings stunt, they were strategically casted in order to emphasize the message of their particular episode. Amongst them were Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Pat Morita, Rip Taylor, Sammy Davis, Jr., Scatman Crothers, Ron Cey, Kareem Abdul-Jabbaar, Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Shirley Hemphill, and California chief justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

Little Richie with Pryor as a Rastafarian.

            The series was nominated for a Huamnitas Prize for “Children’s Live-Action Category: Home Free” and several Daytime Emmy awards. It only won the Emmy for “Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design” and “Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design.” Unfortunately, while it earned the respect of awards committees, it failed to reach a significant audience. Part of that was due to its being broadcast in the 11:30 timeslot, which in some markets was reserved for local programming and resulted in its being pushed back. The low-key humor was also pointed out as being a possible cause, failing to grab audiences who may have been expecting something different from Pryor.

The kids of Pryor's Place.

            The result was the series ended up being cancelled after its single season of 13 episodes. CBS continued to air it in reruns throughout the first half of 1985, but disappeared from the airwaves altogether once it left their schedule. The next time anyone would see any part of the show would be on VHS in 1998 when Rhino Entertainment released four double-episode tapes. Pryor’s Place does live on in one form, however: Pryor’s hometown of Peoria, Illinois renamed one of their streets Richard Pryor Place in honor of the comedian.             

EPISODE GUIDE:
“High Noon at 5:30 P.M.” (9/15/84) – Richie faces off with the neighborhood bully.

“To Catch a Little Thief” (9/22/84) – Richie steals a basketball to get in good with a street gang.

“Love Means Never…” (9/29/84) – Richie’s painful first grade first romance.

“Voyage to the Planet of the Dumb” (10/6/84) – Richie and his friends learn why skipping school is dumb.

“Close Encounters of…” (10/13/84) – Richie tries to get a fuzzy alien home.

“Sax Education” (10/20/84) – Richie loses a saxophone.

“Readers of the Lost Art” (10/27/84) – Richie and Wally think reading is uncool.

“Divorce Children’s Style” (11/3/84) – Divorce sometimes happens, but what does it do to the kids involved?

“The Kimosabe Blues” (11/10/84) – Richie and Wally’s argument threatens their friendship.

“The Showoff” (11/17/84) – Richie is terrified to perform in front of his first audience.

“Cousin Rita” (11/24/84) – Little Richie’s friend has a crush on his older cousin.

“Home Free” (12/1/84) – Amanda reveals a traumatic incident from her past to Richie.

“Too Old Too Soon, Too Smart Too Late” (12/8/84) – Richie learns the importance of respecting elders.

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