Pryor's Place

An early 1984 promo poster for Pryor's Place's debut on CBS Saturday morning line-up

Pryor's Place

Richard Pryor on the set

Fill 1
Fill 1
February 26, 2024
Online Originals

Why Richard Pryor's First (and Only) Kids' Series Lasted One Season

As Pryor's Place turns 40, we revisit the iconic comic's Emmy-winning hidden gem.

Mara Reinstein

In 1980, Richard Pryor accidentally lit himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.

Four years later, in 1984, came the true stunner: That same Richard Pryor hosted a Saturday morning children's TV show called Pryor's Place. It only lasted for a season, so no need to Google to jog your 1980s memory. But the series remains a fascinating — and Emmy-winning! — footnote because it offered a rare glimpse into the sensitive side of the pioneering R-rated comic and Silver Streak actor.

"This was a guy cussing on stage, and I was like, 'How's he going to have a kids' show?'" says singer-songwriter Ray Parker Jr., of Ghostbusters fame, who sang and appeared in Pryor's Place's catchy opening credits sequence. "But it was great. It shows that you can't profile anybody."

For the record, Pryor's Place was not Pryor's idea. It originated with producer Marty Krofft, who took a meeting with a CBS executive in 1983 about a future project. Along with his brother, Sid, the two were responsible for kid-friendly hits like Far Out Space Nuts, Sigmund and the Sea Monster and Land of the Lost. Now he was encouraged to do a show with a recognizable name. Krofft suggested Pryor on the spot.

"I think he's the funniest man in the world," he relayed to The New York Times in 1984. Much to his surprise, Pryor expressed interest. As he told the NYT, "It came at a point when I wanted to do it. When you sit in a room with Marty Krofft, it's hard to say no." Besides, Pryor had just co-starred with Christopher Reeve in 1983's family-friendly Superman III and appeared in 1979's The Muppet Movie.

Behind the scenes, writers such as Lorne Frohman (The Krofft Supershow), Paul Mooney (Sanford & Son) and Mark Evanier (Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo) filled out the diverse staff. The episodes unfolded like a more-urban Sesame Street. Parker, hot off the mega-success of his "Ghostbusters" anthem for the 1984 blockbuster of the same name, supplied the titular theme and interacted with Pryor and the young stars in the credits. "He was one of my favorite comedians of all time, so it was a win-win," he explains.

While walking around a neighborhood intended to resemble his native Peoria, Illinois, Pryor broke the fourth wall to share his personal connections to the topics at-hand — think bullying (addressed in the first episode), divorce, stealing and abuse. An adolescent-aged cast, including Akili Prince as "Little Ritchie," played out the drama. Pryor also appeared as other characters, including a reggae saxophonist, while some of the Kroffts' puppets popped up in interstitials. The narratives also dropped decidedly mid-'80s pop cultural references, from sportscaster Howard Cosell to The Karate Kid, and concluded with a lesson about the hardships of growing up, minus any condescending talking-down.

During his brief time on the set, Parker was intrigued-yet-impressed by Pryor's demeanor. Instead of small talk, Pryor introduced himself to the singer by inquiring why he had agreed to the gig. Recalls Parker, "It was totally off the hook, and I wasn't ready for it. It's like I had to pause after everything he said because his brain was not in the same direction as my brain." But once the cameras rolled, "he could recite a five-minute dialogue and take you up and down and sideways emotionally. It was really a skill."

Pryor's Place premiered September 15, 1984, with a high risk level that matched its reported high budget of $300,000 per episode. But 90 percent of the CBS affiliates opted to air the rare live-action Saturday morning show, and even the New York Times was taken with the unusual offering. (Critic John J. O'Connor raved at the time, "This half-hour show is pleasantly low-key in its eagerness to enlighten and reassure").

Thirteen episodes were produced, many of which featured esteemed guest-stars such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Sammy Davis Jr., Robin Williams and Henry Winkler. "Everybody was excited," Parker says. "Ratings were pretty good. We were like, 'We're going to keep going another season!'"

Alas, they didn't.

At the end of 1984, Parker received the dreaded message: Pryor didn't want to do the show anymore and production had immediately ceased. To this day, he's unclear about Pryor's reasoning. (For what it's worth, during a subsequent breakfast, Pryor gave Parker a conciliatory doll from his travels in Africa.)

The series, however, did live on — and not just because reruns aired on CBS until June 1985. Pryor's Place was nominated for eight Daytime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Children's Series and Outstanding Writing in a Children's Series; it won three in the technical categories. Four VHS videotapes of the show were released in the late 1990s, and full installments can be streamed on YouTube. (The pilot has racked up 738,000 views.)

As for Parker, he keeps the opening credits clip stored in his phone and continues to mix it up with curious fans about his other cultural output from 1984. "People still ask me about it," he says. "It brings back a lot of memories."

Browser Requirements
The sites look and perform best when using a modern browser.

We suggest you use the latest version of any of these browsers:


Visiting the site with Internet Explorer or other browsers may not provide the best viewing experience.

Close Window