Night Flight (TV series)

Night Flight (TV series)
Night Flight
Night Flight title screen from 1988
Format Variety
Created by Stuart S. Shapiro
Narrated by Pat Prescott
Country of origin  United States
Camera setup multi-camera
Running time 4 hours
Original channel USA Network
Original run June 1981 – 1996

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.


Broadcast history

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.[1]

The series originally ran from 1981–1988, for four hours on Friday and Saturday evenings. USA Up All Night starring Caroline Schlitt and Gilbert Gottfried (and, later, Rhonda Shear) replaced it in 1988.

It was later revived through syndication in 1990, with a single season of new episodes 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. And, with the freedom had by them on early (and late-night) cable television, they would at times show portions of videos that were censored (or in some cases, banned) by MTV and other outlets.

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. Legendary 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:

Programming intentions

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 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 (circa 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.[2]

Films shown on Night Flight


TV Guide called Night Flight the "Best Pop Music Magazine show on cable".[3] USA Today would later echo that sentiment, declaring it "the most creative use of music and video on television today".[4]


  1. ^ Denisoff, pp. 129—30
  2. ^ Harrington, Beth. "Reference". Boston Rock issue #77; September 1986. Michael Dreese, pub. Billie Best, ed.
  3. ^ TV Guide, July 9, 1981, quoted in Denisoff, p. 132
  4. ^ USA Today, December 2, 1982, quoted in Denisoff, pp. 132—33


  • Denisoff, R. Serge (1998). Inside MTV. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0887388647.

External links

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