Night Flight: Catching the Red Eye Express


All aboard, tickets please! Welcome to your passport to the ‘wild side’- an enticing magic carpet ride through the darkness to lucky cable subscribers (& their vulnerable offspring). It's time for NIGHT FLIGHT. When I stepped on board, it opened the doors to new music, films and pop history I had yet to imagine, creating a river-like cultural collage that would feed my Obsolete fever dreams for years to come.

The program first aired on the fledgling USA Network in 1981, a channel seeking inroads in the expanding cable frontier, and eager to eat into SNL & MTV viewership. Each Friday & Saturday night at 11pm, the consistent ‘voice of god’ female host (Pat Prescott) ushered us on a journey that tied together disparate footage into ‘take-off’ tributes to genres (‘New Wave’, ‘Women in Rock,’ ‘Punk/Heavy Metal’) and ‘video profiles’ of ground-breaking artists usually given scant time on the airwaves.

Here was the first place I could glimpse Tom Waits sing through a ventriloquist dummy in the back of the dive bar (‘Blow Wind Blow’), see a crazy Devo or Residents clip or watch Wendy O. Williams smash stuff while rocking mightily. The program provided cult films like LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS and FORBIDDEN PLANET exposure to whole new audiences who couldn’t attend the grind or art-house circuit. Entire (public domain?) episodes of 1950s sci-fi like SPACE PATROL, Japanese superhero serials & original commercials from bygone TV eras aired along with the modern footage, flowing seamlessly though the debris of the American pop subconscious. Here was random but thematic fun that you could tune in and out of as schedule (or parents) permitted. You may have come for the Billy Idol but you were leaving with a Cold War atomic energy propaganda film! While the show’s expansive format may have been a byproduct of plentiful cheap footage to play with, it had the added educational benefit of warping young minds.

The show aired its last first-run episode in 1988, transitioning into the buzz-kill of Gilbert Gottfried’s UP ALL NIGHT (which had its cruder charms). Perhaps aware of its fly-in-the ointment relevance in today’s carefully targeted app culture, the Night Flight entity has now rebooted itself as a website of mighty content and a subscription service, featuring episodes from the original run, as well as many of the artist segments and documentaries featured in the original shows. We the Obsolete owe the Flight crew a mighty debt. I highly recommend scheduling a trip today.