Those who compare pictures like "Flashdance" and "Staying Alive" with MTV in order to disparage the movies are actually insulting MTV, whose rock videos tend to be more imaginative, original and energized than either of those imbecilic films. And, better still, the average rock video is only three or four minutes long, so if you hate it, you have the hope of imminent escape.

NBC, which has been busily divesting itself of its crown jewels lately (be they "Taxi" or Roger Mudd) dumped the brilliant "SCTV Comedy Network" to make way for "Friday Night Videos," a cheap but fairly brisk 90 minutes that offers yet another showcase for video pop. It might be especially appreciated in such culturally deprived areas as the nation's capital, where there's no cable TV, much less any MTV.

The premiere program, at 12:30 tonight on Channel 4, just after Johnny Carson, offers 13 videos of past or present, including the so-called world premiere of Elton John's "That's Why They Call It the Blues," which it turns out, has been previously seen on some other video show. Big deal.

Opening with Michael Jackson's slightly kinky "Beat It" (called by the announcer "perhaps the most popular video of all time") the program pops along with such delights as "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler and "Baby Jane" by that provocative dandelion, Rod Stewart. Its imagery of sinking shoes is rather affecting.

There are also looks back at a 1964 clip of the Beatles singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at RFK Stadium (not really a video at all, just poorly shot newsreel footage) and a flimsily cursory featurette on The Doors. At one point, viewers are asked to vote, via a 900 phone number, on which video they like better, David Bowie's "Let's Dance" or Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf."

I hear America shrugging. Wouldn't it be great if nobody called?

Rock videos are the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musicals of a postliterate, semiverbal generation whose attention span has been shortened to a wink by television. Unlike Busby Berkeley numbers of the '30s they are as likely to be decorated with scantily clad boys as with scantily clad girls--no doubt, a great leap forward for the human race. Often, exotic or compelling visuals and dazzling video effects are really just there to disguise the fact that the music itself is empty, and the lyrics listlessly redundant, as in Rick Springfield's "Human Touch," with those lines you love to quote:

"We all need the human touch / We all need the human touch / I need it, the human touch / We all need the human touch."

Springfield is also heard discussing the hard life of rock musicians on the road and says, "traveling in a bus is probably one of the most boring things you can do." Ah, but it's sweet adventure compared with listening to a rock star talk.

Those for whom these videos are a new novelty may find the show--produced by the dull Dick Ebersol--diverting, but rock videos now fill the airwaves. In addition to the 24-hour MTV, they are seen on the Atlanta SuperStation's "Night Tracks," on syndicated programs such as the poorly done "FM TV," and on the USA Cable Network's Weekend "Night Flight." Perhaps as with Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the videos will become an oppressive glut and overnight vanish into unpopularity, to be replaced by some other jangly fad. We can hardly wait to find out what that will be.