14. 'The Richard Pryor Show' (1977)
"He was a comic mind that, he would hit oil," Richard Pryor Show writer Jeremy Stevens told EmmyLegends.org about the show's star. "You didn't even see the drill go in, but out would spurt [these] comic creations…full-blown, hot-blooded characters. You didn't even know what they were or who they were, but they were funny." Few sketch shows shone brighter or burned out quicker than Richard Pryor's, which aired for all of four episodes in 1977. Pryor was feuding with network executives even before it premiered, but the battles he won yielded astonishing results. A press conference with the first African-American president plays out deadpan for several minutes until black journalists start asking questions, at which point Pryor's commander-in-chief muses that Huey Newton might make a good FBI director. There are low-stakes bits involving Pryor as a cowboy and a samurai, but also high-wire acts, like the nearly 20-minute "Club Harlem" sequence, a poignant evocation of the Harlem Renaissance that rarely stoops to anything so uncouth as a punchline. Despite its brief length, The Richard Pryor Show doesn't feel like it was gone too soon; it's a miracle it ever existed at all. "Fearless," said Stevens about Pryor. "The show aborted after very few episodes because he called us one day and said, 'I wanna throw it in, I bet none of you disagree.' He told the writers, 'What we wanna do…There's just too much censorship. We can't work with a muzzle. I don't wanna do it to you guys.'"