When The Night Took Flight: How The Era of The Internet Has Become Instrumental in Preserving an Iconic Part of The 80s

I will be honest. I hadn’t heard of Night Flight until our Editor in Chief mentioned it to me. And then it was time to go down the rabbit hole. What awaited me down there was a testament to peak 80s counterculture.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

What Exactly Is Night Flight?

For the uninitiated, much like I was only a month or two ago, Night Flight is a show that lit up cable TV screens every Friday and Saturday night from 1981 to 1988. Stuart Shapiro is the creator of this much-revered embodiment of the Wild West era of cable TV.

It featured no anchor and began with an equally iconic voice-over by Patt Prescott, who introduced the theme before launching into an explanation of the relevance of the artists, bands, shows, and movies being featured. From that moment on, you were in for an adventure. It was like a very 80s punk advent calendar — you never knew what you were gonna get. But gods, if every bite didn’t delight.

In essence, Night Flight was one of the OG late-night variety shows, featuring music videos, interviews, underground movies, bizarre animation, and comedy. It was home to emerging new-wave punk bands. For seven wonderful, rebellion-tinted years, it’s where the lost children of the neighborhood gathered over bottles of soda and weed, discussing questions of purpose, individuality, and existentialism. It was the true spirit of the 80s — minus the commercialization.

Again, I can only imagine what this must have felt like. I suspect that it is like that stack of pirated CDs I would rent from a slightly-shady corner shop every month as a young teen, with absolutely no idea what I was about to encounter.

So, where is Night Flight now? Better yet, why did this show — with all its cult-following and extraordinary powers of shaping the ideas and ideals of an entire generation of punk kids — vanish into thin air?

Except it didn’t. Years ago, Shapiro — tired of the toll the show took on his mental and physical well-being — was forced to take a break. Soon after, that era of TV slammed to a screeching halt. Streaming platforms took over, and the time of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ started rolling out. Perhaps shows like Night Flight did not have a place in a world of consumption and commercialized media.

Fans were, thus, forced to submit to reminiscing. The time of Night Flight and secret rebellious rendezvouses was over. Or was it?

Time in a Filmic Bottle

Fate had other plans, it seems, because, decades later, a fan with an Oklahoma-based company acquired a warehouse with the Night Flight library, entire and intact. Here was Night Flight again. Preserved in time, the world wasn’t, couldn’t be, done without something as extraordinary as this show.

Of course, Night Flight’s resurgence wasn’t part of Shapiro’s plans. He says, “I remember the intense amount of work and team coordination between myself and my partner at ATI, Cynthia Friedland, who was managing the legal and acquisition, while I was editing during the day, prepping, and then editing in the morning studio at night from 7 o’clock at night till 1 in the morning, Monday through Thursday.

“It went on nonstop for me for six years.”

Intense as the work was, Shapiro remembers the creative freedom they were handed for 8 hours a week with extreme fondness and perhaps not a small amount of pride. “We could put on anything that we wanted to,” he says, “…it was sort of like a golden age of programming.

I don’t think in my life as a Producer Director Entrepreneur I ever had more fun and felt more rewarded by being a beacon in the new age of programming.”

So, on being handed a library full of what I can only call his dreamchild, Shapiro began the tedious process of digitizing the entire collection. In 2015, Shapiro launched the Night Flight website, followed by the subscription-based platform — NightFlightPlus.com — in early 2016. This Night Flight is a museum. And perhaps much, much more.

The subscription-based platform offers a trip down nostalgia lane and a living, breathing tribute to 80s counter-culture.

The Legend Streamed

If the 80s were about rebellion, then NF had signified the best of that spirit. After all, NF was punk before MTV was even born – literally, the cable channel once known for music videos would launch 8 weeks after Night Flight debuted. This platform, too, is not just a stilted old testament. It is a movement. Today it stands against the commercial nature of streaming platforms, offering something unique and individual, yet one that reminds one of a community where you are understood and accepted.

The entire collection here is curated instead of being overwhelming, keeping you mindlessly scrolling through endless expanses of bad shows to find one you can tolerate. You can directly subscribe to the site and stream it online or head to Roku, iOS, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire and delve into the madness that, to quote their Twitter bio, “broke all the cable TV rules in the 1980s.”

Jason Woodbury, producer of the Night Flight Plus show — WASTOIDS — is a newer addition to the fandom, much like me. When asked whether he believes the new platform offers something unique compared to streaming services like Netflix, he says that it provides a “point of view.” “There's a diverse slate of programming on NF,” he adds, “but, somehow, it all feels united in a theme of subversion and weird humor.”

But what charm does he think it holds for you and me, i.e., ones just getting introduced to it? His answer to this is simple. “..actual discovery”, he says, “Of fascinating subcultures, musical figures, cult horror movies—is possible with a service like Night Flight.”

What's Next?

That said, I worry about its future. Can NF hold on to its punk-rock anarchic crown in this age of access? I, for one, want it to survive. Currently, it needs to focus on marketing its unique sales perspective, like offering an exclusive, curated experience, and not just bank on nostalgia. The creators could also revisit who their target audience is. Shapiro himself seems aware of this.

“…I think that one of the best aspects of Night Flight Plus is its vast library of music, documentaries, music videos, and original programs based on original air masters of Night Flight, which you cannot see anywhere else – this just gives you not only a nostalgic high from a programming perspective, but Night Flight Plus also delivers you the coolest new documentaries and music that are available anywhere with no advertising.”

“It’s surprising how younger people are attracted to 80s programming even though they were never even alive then,” he adds.

I, for one, am not surprised. If the recent 80s wave that drowned mainstream pop culture says anything, it is that millennials and Gen-Zs could not be more fond of pseudo-nostalgia.

They — we — crave a return to a simpler, neon-scented time that’s untainted by the war on terror and a pandemic. NF can capitalize on this very craving. While this may be the opposite of every ideal NF stands for, if some marketing and capitalization can save something as uniquely, rebelliously punk as the show, then so be it.

I end this trip down pseudo-nostalgia lane with a comic I could not help but keep revisiting each time I read more about Night Flight. Midnight Radio — by EL Comics — embodies much of what I now believe is the spirit of Night Flight. It is a show that goes ever on, haunting, humbling, and vaguely reminiscent of a home lost and a hearth re-won.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Ananyaa Bhowmik is a neurodivergent and queer pop-culture journalist with the Wealth of Geeks. She has previously worked with brands like Sterling Holidays, Myntra, Bajaj, and the Loud Interactive. She is an independent scholar, cat parent, and performance poet. Her areas of research and interest focus on and around digital marketing, Canadian indigenous history, queerness in media, and pop-culture and fandom studies.