Night Flight (TV series)
Night Flight title screen from 1988
|Created by||Stuart S. Shapiro|
|Narrated by||Pat Prescott|
|Country of origin||USA|
|Running time||4 hours|
|Original channel||USA Network
|Original airing||First Run
June 5, 1981 –
December 31, 1988
Night Flight is a variety show that originated on the USA Network. An eclectic mix of short films, cartoons, B movies, stand up comedy, documentaries, music videos and more, Night Flight was broadcast, in various incarnations, from 1981 to 1996.
Jeff Franklin, head of American Talent International, and Stuart S. Shapiro, head of International Harmony, approached USA Network about developing Night Flight in February 1981. At the time USA was having difficulty defining itself as a network and decided to take a chance on the series. The first episode of Night Flight aired on June 5, 1981, timed to take advantage of a writers' strike that had halted production on NBC's Saturday Night Live.
The series originally ran from 1981–1988, for four hours on Friday and Saturday evenings. The final episode aired on New Year's Eve 1988. Camp Midnite and USA Up All Night starring Gilbert Gottfried respectively replaced it the following week.
It was later revived through syndication in 1990 with three seasons worth of new episodes, running until 1992, before the format was changed to "best of" shows from the USA years with host Tom Juarez. These shows were seen as late as 1996.
Format and contents
Night Flight was one of the first places to see films and shorts not generally aired on broadcast television or on the pay-per movie channels such as HBO. It was the first place many Americans were able to see music documentaries like Another State of Mind, The Grateful Dead Movie, Word, Sound and Power, and Yessongs. Night Flight was also one of the first American television shows to display the music video as an art form, rather than purely as a promotional tool for the artists. In addition, with the freedom it had on early (and late-night) cable television, it would at times show portions of videos that MTV and other outlets had either censored or, in some cases, banned outright.
In the original format of the show, there was no formal host. Voice-over introductions were made by Pat Prescott before segments started. Recurring segments included:
- Take Off - A segment grouping together music videos on particular themes as well as a mix of interviews and snippets from movies, to help round out the segment. Examples from the show are Take Off To Animation, Take Off To Sex, Take Off To Violence, etc. San Francisco news reporter Dave McQueen did the voice-overs.
- New Wave Theatre - Hosted by Peter Ivers, the show featured punk and New Wave acts, chiefly from the Los Angeles area.
- The Video Artist - A segment covering artists working in the then-new world of video and computer graphics.
- The Comic - Profiles of various comedians, consisting of stand-up bits interspersed with interview segments.
- Video Profile - A segment featuring videos by one particular band or artist. works included Suspicious Circumstances, by Jim Blashfield, and works by the Brothers Quay.
- Atomic TV - A segment featuring various Cold War-era footage
- Love That Bob (Church of the Sub-Genius) - A serialized presentation of the Sub-Genius video Arise!
- Rick Shaw's Takeout Theater
- Dynaman - An English-dubbed parody of six episodes of the Super Sentai series Kagaku Sentai Dynaman
- J-Men Forever
- Space Patrol - An early 1950s U.S. sci-fi television series
- Tales of Tomorrow
- Heavy Metal Heroes
- The Some Bizzare Show, featuring the artists of the Some Bizzare label
- Snub TV
Bela Lugosi's Monogram films were recurring features. Other segments included condensed parodies of low-quality, out-of-copyright black-and-white-era movies and serials, as well as letters from viewers.
The show would also highlight movies that were regarded as cult hits. Examples include:
- Fantastic Planet, the English title of La Planète Sauvage (literally "The Savage Planet") an animated 1973 science fiction film directed by René Laloux.
- The Kentucky Fried Movie, an American comedy film, released in 1977 and directed by John Landis.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, the story of a proto-riot grrrl band, directed by Lou Adler.
- Music of the Spheres, a low-budget psychological science fiction mystery, directed by Philip Jackson and starring Peter Brickmanis and Anne Dansereau. 
- Rude Boy, a punk rock drama featuring The Clash.
- Breaking Glass, a musical drama starring Hazel O'Connor and directed by Brian Gibson.
- Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, two horror satires directed by Paul Morrissey and initially presented by Andy Warhol.
In issue #77 of the entertainment magazine Boston Rock, Night Flight's Director of Programming Stuart Samuels was interviewed about the show. He is introduced as having a doctorate in the History Of Ideas, having been a former professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, a teacher of annual seminars at the Cannes Film Festival, and as the author of a book on cult film classics titled Midnight Movies. He describes their intention as wanting to "...put the videos together in some kind of thematic categories...so that the videos were saying something to each other and were letting the audience make conclusions from them." He also states that they never felt in competition with MTV, as they wanted to be; "...a little more selective... intelligent and... stimulating." He claims they were the first to put director's names on the videos, interview the bands, create band profiles, show uncensored videos and longform 12" remix videos; as well as the first to put together politically oriented shows about subjects like apartheid in South Africa. He states that their intention was not to be "...heavy-handed, but do 'here's-something-that's-in-the-news' shows". Samuels and the interviewer also speak of a backlash against the stagnation and repetition of rock video (c. 1986), which inspired Night Flight to program even more animation, cult and camp films. Samuels also gives the background of Senior Producer Stuart Shapiro as having run a company that was instrumental in the distribution of cult, midnight movie and campy films like Tunnelvision.
Films shown on Night Flight
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- Assassin of Youth
- The Brain
- Breaking Glass
- Daughters of Darkness
- Dementia 13
- Fantastic Planet
- Kentucky Fried Movie
- Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
- Magical Mystery Tour
- The Red House
- Reefer Madness
- Scared to Death
- Spooks Run Wild
- Taking Off
- The Pace That Kills
- The Terror
- The Terror of Tiny Town
- Urgh! A Music War
- Concert for Kampuchea (clips)
- On the Air Live with Captain Midnight
- Denisoff, pp. 129—30
- Harrington, Beth. "Reference". Boston Rock issue #77; September 1986. Michael Dreese, pub. Billie Best, ed.
- TV Guide, July 9, 1981, quoted in Denisoff, p. 132
- USA Today, December 2, 1982, quoted in Denisoff, pp. 132—33
- Denisoff, R. Serge (1998). Inside MTV. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-88738-864-7.