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Welcome to Night Flight
April 23, 2007 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Night Flight aired Friday and Saturday nights on the USA Network from 1981-1988 in the heady early days of cable. It was one of the first places to see shorts old and new, music documentaries, and conceptual, artistically-intended music videos -- not to mention MST3K-style parody, general weirdness, and 420-addled wonderfulness.
posted by Methylviolet (64 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Iron Man
posted by Methylviolet at 3:39 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Now I feel bad for changing the channel over and over and over through the years. I thought it was just a music video show.
posted by absalom at 3:41 PM on April 23, 2007


Night Flight. What an awesome thing. It was this hot injection of punk-rock bizzaro culture directly into my pre-adolescent brain. Do kids these days* have anything even remotely similar?

*I'm serious, but get off my lawn anyways.
posted by lekvar at 3:43 PM on April 23, 2007


Man, I would stay up till the wee hours of the night when I was a kid to watch "Another State of Mind" whenever it was on. I thought it was the greatest documentary in the entire world. Once I finally got a VCR I taped it and was able to pull out the address of the BYO off of a logo they showed for a a few seconds. After writing to Shawn Stern, it opened up a world of new music to me. He was a really cool guy when I was a kid, and he always returned every letter I wrote.

Loved that documentary!
posted by punkrockrat at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2007


Wow. Night Flight was one of those way cool early cable experiments that you would never see today. Great post.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I remember watching this back in the day. That show had a real "Those suits in Corporate gave us a budget! Suckers! Let's spend it on blow! And chicks! And maybe some animation! And hey, that one band made a video--let's play it!" kind of vibe to it. Really experimental for its time. I can't even recall many details of it now, except that I spent a lot of my time staring at some of the more absurdist pieces in slack-jawed amazement, wondering if fatigue was causing hallucinations.

And to think that this was later replaced with Rhonda Shear.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 3:57 PM on April 23, 2007


Excellent post. This is where I saw Adrian Belew's videos ("Big Electric Cat" was notable), as well as trippy animation like "Fantastic Planet." My step-dad had cable, and I'd hang out at his place when he and my mom went out on the weekend. I miss it. There's been nothing quite like it since (except maybe MTV's Liquid Television), at least not all in one place.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:58 PM on April 23, 2007


I remember late, late one hot summer night, lying on the floor in my uncle's living room, unable to sleep because of the heat, watching Night Flight and seeing a video of a band playing - and one of the band members was playing a rubber duck.

Good times.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


Night Flight was beyond awesome. It's where I learned about Frank Zappa and Laurie Anderson. I lucked into a few VCD's of content from a collector a couple years back, and was pleased to discover that I STILL get wood from that announcer's voice.
posted by davelog at 4:00 PM on April 23, 2007


What I can't believe is that it was on 20 years ago. I've wasted my life.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:03 PM on April 23, 2007


Last night I had a dream about MetaFilter, as I often do, but this one wasn't hentai-themed, no, in this one I dreamed what various prominent Mefites would say if they saw this post. Apologies to anyone I mis-characterize; some of you had chicken heads and were sitting on top of my refrigerator.
---

Ronald Reagan intro = kinda funny; computer graphics = um?; second song = me like!
posted by cgc373 at 8:16 PM on April 22

I remember watching Night Flight as a little kid and being amazed that you could actually find subversive (I didn't know that word at the time, only its essence) and interesting material on the television.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:33 PM on April 22

Oh Night Flight... what great memories... the first time I stayed up all night "Fantastic Planet" was on. I think it changed my life. I think I vaguely remember these too. Thanks for this.
posted by moonbird at 8:34 PM on April 22

Is it just me or does none of this make any sense?
posted by puke & cry at 8:42 PM on April 22

I definitely remember the gisele video. I thought it was awfully clever that they were simulating flight by jumping up and down and then removing all the frames except the ones of them with their legs in the air. Something online as well curated as Night Flight was would definitely be welcome.
posted by vacapinta at 8:47 PM on April 22

Wow, I don't think I ever slept on weekends as a kid because of Night Flight. Thanks for the post.
posted by sleepy pete at 8:56 PM on April 22

Thanks for this, vronsky. [In the dream, that's what she called me. (?)] I loved Night Flight, but never thought to look it up on YouTube. That first clip reminds me of a pumped up version of one of my favorite road safety PSAs, Stop, Look and Listen.
posted by maryh at 9:49 PM on April 22

So, let me get this straight... the broom, it vibrates?!
posted by Dave Faris at 10:10 PM on April 22

: )
posted by vronsky at 10:16 PM on April 22
posted by Methylviolet at 4:08 PM on April 23, 2007


I was just thinking about posting this today, but thought that it was too soon because of this link. Of course, now that one is deleted. Dammit. Oh well, nice post. I was talking to someone at work today about how great Night Flight was and how I would never sleep on the weekends. This was from the age of 12 to about 15. Yeah, the music was great and the movies were wonderful.
posted by sleepy pete at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2007


"Hey, you!"

I have very fond memories of "The All Night Show" which aired live on Toronto's CFMT during the early 80's. The concept: the station's overnight security guard becomes show host and presents 5/6 hours of cool TV. Often watched under the influence. Man, I loved Chuck and Ryerson.
posted by davebush at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2007


Wait, what...
posted by sleepy pete at 4:10 PM on April 23, 2007


Yep, Night Flight, Alive From Off Center, and Teletunes (a Colorado PBS video show) helped expose me to a lot of weird, arty stuff when I was a teen in the late 1980s. Just the names of the shows take me back to my parents' basement.

Which is to say that I no longer live in my parents basement.
posted by bevedog at 4:16 PM on April 23, 2007


you know, i think this was even shown on broadcast TV (NBC) very late at night. i can remember watching it when i was a kid (and getting a huge dose of "bob"), and we did not have cable.
posted by joeblough at 4:20 PM on April 23, 2007


Just the names of the shows take me back to my parents' basement.

Yeah, they take me back to your parents' basement too. And I see they still have that velvet painting on the wall. The clown. I always loved that one.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:30 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was talking to someone at work today about how great Night Flight was and how I would never sleep on the weekends.

And then the guy said, "yeah, yeah, blah blah blah, get back to work."
posted by cortex at 4:31 PM on April 23, 2007


We used to watch this on my friend's massive couch when we got too tired to play any more AD&D. I used to wonder what kinds of people were into that show.
posted by redteam at 4:39 PM on April 23, 2007


This lady appears to be selling Night Flight DVDs, if you're into that whole rewarding-people-materially-for-piracy sort of thing. (Awfully old-fashioned in the days of torrenting, but who am I to say.)
posted by mykescipark at 4:42 PM on April 23, 2007


...so Night Flight, no relation to Afternoon Delight?

huh, I missed most of the West's 80's living in India and this is a cool post for anthropological reasons. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 4:47 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


God, I loved Night Flight. Thanks for this.
posted by Gucky at 4:47 PM on April 23, 2007


I vividly remember the opening titles. I also vividly rememer changing the channel, as the only time I'd watched it was just boring music videos.

And this from a kid whose favorite albums list included the Resident's Duck Stab, and I was a Laurie Anderson fan, so I was no stranger to oddness. Ah well.
posted by davejay at 4:52 PM on April 23, 2007


Vancouver had Nite Dreems in the late 70s/early 80s, hosted by John Tanner. Sounds like Night Flight was similarly cool and weird.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:56 PM on April 23, 2007


huh, I missed most of the West's 80's living in India

Hey, nickyskye, you didn't miss much: there's been nothing going on in the West 80's for a long time now. The Lower East Side still has some energy, and of course parts of Brooklyn are kinda coming up, and---

Huh?

Oh.

Nevermind.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:58 PM on April 23, 2007


Night Flight -glorious.
Excellent post.
posted by squidfartz at 5:04 PM on April 23, 2007


it was really was cool--and it showed things MTV never ever did (esp pre-120 Minutes)
posted by amberglow at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was thinking of the 120 Minutes comparison too. For those who never saw it, Night Flight was like 120 Minutes with a soft, chewy Liquid Television center.

And Dynaman Rocked.
posted by lekvar at 5:17 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


what lekvar said : >
posted by amberglow at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2007


I was in my 30's and still thought it rocked...i believed that cable and the internet would make a difference.

Maybe they will yet.
posted by aiq at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2007


My parents didn't get cable until after I had graduated and moved out, so I remember seeing this listing in the TV Guide and was always curious as to what it was. I suspected it was something weird, exotic and moreover something I would have really liked as a disaffected, understimulated and punkish early 80s suburban teen.

And now I know.

Nice post, methlyviolet.
posted by psmealey at 5:36 PM on April 23, 2007


There was also Radio 1990, which I would watch because it was on during dinner (actually called supper where I'm from, but that's a different story). And yes, what lekvar said, but the program was so much better because MTV would never put Another State of Mind against a 30 minute Grace Jones video spot, or show drug-themed cartoons and go into Afrika Baambaataa and Run DMC videos. The boundaries that were imposed by MTV weren't there on Night Flight.

This 80s nostalgia kind of makes me want to buy a party ball now. Anyone with me?
posted by sleepy pete at 5:40 PM on April 23, 2007


Gisele Kerozene!
posted by drinkcoffee at 5:46 PM on April 23, 2007


Wow, Nightflight. I hadn't thought about that in years. I remember when I started seeing the ads for MTV before my cable company picked it up, I thought, "cool, it will be like Nightflight 24/7." And then I finally saw MTV and it sucked.
posted by octothorpe at 5:52 PM on April 23, 2007


Some friends of mine, one of whom worked on Tron, made the opening to that show in their Soho loft using Evans and Sutherland-generated vectors, film, and a basic optical printer
posted by jfrancis at 6:03 PM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


flapjax, you sweet rascal.

Cable TV was cool in a wacky kind of way when I first saw it in the late 80's. Isn't really anything like it these days, for that brave wackiness anyway.
posted by nickyskye at 6:11 PM on April 23, 2007


jfrancis: very cool.

Isn't really anything like it these days, for that brave wackiness anyway.

YouTube?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:16 PM on April 23, 2007


New Wave Theatre opened my naive teenager eyes to a whole new world. I'll never forget the coolness of hearing Fear sing "Fuck Christmas." I never missed Night Flight. Excellent post.
posted by Otis at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2007


octothorpe writes "And then I finally saw MTV and it sucked."

Now it sucks in digital.

Actually, looking back, it was the channel's golden age. Thomas Dolby and Devo were in heavy rotation in the early days. Michael Jackson was the first black artist to break through on MTV, and his extended video "Thriller" was a global event, and everyone wanted to see it, fan or not. You know, back when he was doing interesting things and wasn't quite as surgically altered ... Eventually, Beavis and Butthead showed up. It wasn't all suck. It got worse as the years went by.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:42 PM on April 23, 2007


Michael Jackson was the first black artist to break through on MTV

Makes you wonder: why was MTV segregated in the first place?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ah Night Flight. How awesome you were to a lonely, social reject. We never had cable, living out in BFE... So I had my local ... I don't think they were really affiliated with any national station at the time. Channel 26, out of Green Bay/Fox Valley, if anyone is familiar (WGBA, I think). Anyways, yeah... This was the early-mid 90s at the time, so it was in syndication.

I remember coming home from Homecoming one night (ok, not so completely alone and socially rejected as to not being able to go to homecoming)... I flip on the TV and see Dynaman! WTF is this shit?

And Bob Dobbs? I totally forgot until now that this is where I heard about the Church of the Subgenius. The music was awesome...

It's a good question... With the current internet age, that sort of underground feeling is gone. Will we ever see something so ... fresh and uncommercial again?

Anything now that's like it is pretty much just corporate america co-opting shit. Or maybe it's just that the creative types grew up with it and have their influence on the larger culture.
posted by symbioid at 6:51 PM on April 23, 2007


We had Rock 'n' America in my neck of the woods. I remember the host as somewhat Joel Hodgson-esque at times, but mostly just wacky. There were skits and just general fooling around between videos. That inspired me to look it up and it turns out someone even has a DVD of it for sale - ahh, the web!
posted by milovoo at 6:52 PM on April 23, 2007


Wow, the host of R'n'A even has a wikipedia entry. Ahh, the web!

The "Fraze" also hosted the little-known late night comedy show called "Rock 'N' America," in 1984, helping to spread the use of the words "cheesy," and "cheese-log."

There was also the phrase "shave your aardvark", which enjoyed a brief local usage at my HS coming from that show.
posted by milovoo at 7:02 PM on April 23, 2007


Fuzzy Monster writes "Makes you wonder: why was MTV segregated in the first place?"

The whole music industry was/is. But not really. The money all goes to the same place.

Also, the available pool of videos was very small at first. From what I gather, they played whatever they were given in the early days. Some artists really took to the video medium early.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:16 PM on April 23, 2007


Previously on Metafilter
posted by anthill at 7:16 PM on April 23, 2007


I was thinking about what lekvar said ("what do the kids have now?") and then realized, oh right, they have the internet.
posted by bobot at 7:23 PM on April 23, 2007


krinklyfig, you're right about the general segregation of the music industry. But MTV did have plenty of videos by African-American artists to choose from... they just chose not to show them.

From here:

"…'There were no African-American artists in heavy rotation, none in medium rotation, and there were no new videos by African-American artists. Overall, there were only three black artists (all from other countries) on the playlist' (Garofalo: 360).

People magazine took notice, writing, "…on MTV’s current roster, of some 800 acts, 16 are black" (Garofalo: 360).

These statistics support the growing contention by artists such as Rick James that MTV was participating in racist practices in its exclusion of black artists from the MTV playlist. In 1983, James had sold over 4 million of his "Street Song" album. However all five of the videos he produced failed in that same year to receive play on MTV. At a Los Angeles press conference, James lashed out, "Me and every one of my peers-Stevie Wonder, the Gap Band, Marvin Gaye-have great videos. Why doesn’t MTV show them? It’s like taking black people back 400 years (Denisoff: 100).

James and others in his predicament gained increasing support from white musicians and music industry insiders. In an interview with MTV veejay Mark Goodman, David Bowie bluntly asked, "Why are there practically no black artists on the network?" Bowie went on to comment, "Don’t say, well it’s not me, it’s them…it should be a conviction of the station… to make the media more integrated" (Denisoff: 100). Chris Blackwell of Island Records saw the possibilities for African-American artists and the shortcomings they instead received, noting that, " the tragedy is that here is an opportunity to break down barriers and they don’t do it" (Garofalo: 361). Finally, Jeff Kelly, operations manager at WDMT condemned MTV saying, " MTV’s racism is more dizzying…simply because the channel is nationwide" (Denisoff:104).

MTV responded to the emerging racism allegations, which spawned in 1983 by claiming it was narrowcasting to fit its target market of the young white male. MTV executive Les Garland defended the network practices saying that, "You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot play jazz and country music and funk. You lose your focus" (Denisoff:102). Throughout the controversy, MTV was adamant in its assertion that it was the format, not racism, which curtailed black video play."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:35 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fuzzy Monster writes "MTV responded to the emerging racism allegations, which spawned in 1983 by claiming it was narrowcasting to fit its target market of the young white male. MTV executive Les Garland defended the network practices saying that, 'You cannot be all things to all people. You cannot play jazz and country music and funk. You lose your focus' (Denisoff:102). Throughout the controversy, MTV was adamant in its assertion that it was the format, not racism, which curtailed black video play.'"

That actually makes some sense. At the time, I'm not sure any executives in the industry could imagine a music video channel encompassing all pop genres, or how it would appeal to a broad audience. Of course, the solution was obvious, but probably not at the time. Perhaps I'm being generous, but I didn't see racism as much as I saw adherence to a particular style and theme, if not genre. Many white artists also didn't get shown in those days. The industry has famously been obsessed with genres and demographics. But, like everyone else, eventually MTV followed the money. Now the channel doesn't even show videos - you have to go to MTV2 for that.

Anyway, what a derail ...
posted by krinklyfig at 7:59 PM on April 23, 2007


You young whippersnappers had it so easy. In my day, we had to try and stay up to catch The Midnight Special, which, despite its name, came on at something like 2AM.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:27 PM on April 23, 2007


We still call our cats dyna-black and dyna-gray.
posted by gamera at 8:48 PM on April 23, 2007


Oriole Adams writes "You young whippersnappers had it so easy"

Remember this?
posted by krinklyfig at 8:48 PM on April 23, 2007


Damn, I have such fond memories of this. This show blew my pre-teen, Okie mind.
posted by Kloryne at 9:36 PM on April 23, 2007


I was thoroughly weirded out by it when I saw it. I thought it was some funky channel that I could never find other times -- never figured out that it was a show, not a channel. I wish I had figured out when it was on.

Thanks for the post!
posted by jiawen at 9:53 PM on April 23, 2007


Damned fine post!
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:08 PM on April 23, 2007


I always found Peter Ivers' raps during the New Wave Theatre segments to be inspiring, he seemed like a beatnick artist embracing punk/new wave as a movement.

If anything, Night Flight certainly balances out any MTV-only view of the 80's. On every level it was an alternative.

As fer yer Midnight Specials and Don Kirshner Rock Concerts, Night Flight directly inherited that tradition more than MTV ever did.

I know I am not alone in having spent the last couple of decades seeking a copy of some musical moment first seen on Night Flight! Now if there were some kinda site that let people upload videos from their personal collections...
posted by bonefish at 10:27 PM on April 23, 2007


Don't forget Jac Mac & Rad Boy... It's "PRIMO ULTIMATO!"
posted by numlok at 11:16 PM on April 23, 2007


Methylviolet, you know I always call you that in the heat of our special moments. Are you still willing to obey the "Vronsky!" command now that you've kicked over the metaphorical lantern in our highly commbustible barn of desire?

Speaking of firey fires, this burned a big ol' hole in my head... I don't think I've seen this video promo since 1980-somethin'. Seriously, this was crazy cutting edge at the time, too.
posted by maryh at 12:18 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


For me the best thing ever on Night Flight was "Webb Wilder, Private Eye in 'The Saucer's Reign'". I'm off to find a copy of it now, doesn't appear to be on YouTube, although there's a few other clips...
posted by pupdog at 4:36 AM on April 24, 2007


I used to love Night Flight. Thanks for this.

BTW, is that Cheney in the background of the Iron Man vid? XD
posted by dozo at 10:34 AM on April 24, 2007


Man, I used to love this show. I used to watch that show when I babysat. I remember the first time time I saw Art of Noise Close to the Edit, and it damn near blew my mind.
posted by msali at 11:06 AM on April 24, 2007


(it was so amazing back then to suddenly have a whole bunch of channels instead just the usual 5)
posted by amberglow at 1:28 PM on April 24, 2007


alive from off center (music for mykescipark:)
posted by vronsky at 9:05 PM on April 24, 2007


good
posted by humannaire at 10:22 PM on April 24, 2007


I loved, loved, loved, Night Flight! Not in my parents' basement, though. I was all growed up, married and had my own house. My biggest conflict was trying to explain to my wife why it was so cool! Thank God for 2 TV sets. I watched it on the BIG 25 inch set in the living room and she had to watch what she wanted on the 13 inch bedroom set.

I remember the old silent movie "A trip to the Moon" (was that the one?) edited and synchronized to Pink Floyd's "Echoes." Plus endless bands and music, weird movies. A marathon of cultural goodies!

Thanks! Good memories. Now... anyone remember Commander USA? :)
posted by The Deej at 11:40 PM on April 24, 2007


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