In the beginning, MTV was still a phenomenon that very few people actually could see in their homes, as cable television wasn't yet the "norm." Friday Night Videos took advantage of that fact and proved to be the next best thing.

    While it primarily showcased music videos by popular top 40 acts of the day, unlike its cable rival — Friday Night Videos tended to offer more variety, featuring artists from the genres of: pop, rock, R&B, and rap.

    In the beginning, the show was 90 minutes long, and consisted of music videos introduced by an off-camera announcer. In addition to this, classic artists of the 1960s and 1970s occasionally appeared in Hall of Fame Videos, major stars were profiled in Private Reels, and new clips made their network debuts as World Premiere Videos.

    The most popular feature was Video Vote. Two videos were played back-to-back, and viewers across the country could call in and vote for one of them, using nationwide 900 numbers for a small per-call fee. The winning video faced a new challenger the following week.

    Nick Michaels and Scott Muni were the off-camera announcers.

    During the early years, the Video Vote segment often received as many as 200,000 calls in one night. The first year ended with a final contest, pitting the videos with the most victories against each other. Callers chose ZZ Top's Sharp Dressed Man as the 1983 Video Vote Champion.

    Occasionally, FNV was simulcast on the radio, so viewers could hear the music in stereo. In December 1983, the show scored a ratings victory when it aired Michael Jackson's Thriller as a World Premiere Video.

    In January 1994, after years of falling ratings and seemingly becoming more and more insignificant in the wake of the cable television boom that allowed more households to have access to MTV, the show was retooled in an attempt to stay relevant. Moving to Los Angeles from New York, it shortened its name to Friday Night, and became less of a music video show and more of a general entertainment and variety program — featuring celebrity interviews, stand-up comedy, movie reviews, live performances, viewer polls, and comedy sketches. Subsequently, the show now only made room to air approximately two music videos per episode. The new format brought two new hosts: comedians Henry Cho and Rita Sever. In 1996, Rita Sever took over as sole host. The old Video Vote segment, meanwhile, was resurrected and renamed Friday Night Jukebox.