Night Flight celebrates our 35th Anniversary this weekend with a free screening of “Tunnel Vision”

By on June 3, 2016

The first episode of “Night Flight” aired on June 5, 1981, and so, this weekend, we’re celebrating our 35th Anniversary with a free screening of Tunnel Vision, which premiered that first day we went on the air. TUNE IN on Night Flight Plus at 11PM EST (subscribers can watch now).

NF POSTER

Today, Night Flight’s founder and creator Stuart Shapiro — still behind the wheel — remembers those early days:

“When we began putting Night Flight together, USA Network hadn’t yet changed their name; they were originally called the Madison Square Garden Network, and reached just 700,000 homes. They changed their name sometime in 1980. It seems like a million years ago.”

STUART SHAPIRO-001

Early in 1981, the USA Network — like all of their cable TV rivals — were still trying to define who their target audience was. They broadcast very few original shows, and a typical broadcast day lasted sixteen hours, or less, and was mostly repeats of old TV shows and programs that were several decades old by then.

They were going dark after the broadcast day ended, and there was literally nothing airing on network late at night, when all the nite owls were still up, searching for entertainment.

NIGHT-FLIGHT1

USA — just one year into a brand new decade — were ready to take chances and take risks in an attempt to grow their audience and hopefully increase their advertising revenues.

Shapiro:“In 1981, Ronald Reagan was in the his year of acting as the President. Interest rates were at 15%, gas was $1.25 a gallon. It was the same year the space shuttle Columbia was launched. Michael Jackson’s Thriller hadn’t come out yet — that didn’t happen for another year, in December 1982. The big movie of the year was Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Just a few years earlier, in 1976, Shapiro had founded his own independent feature film distribution company, International Harmony, based in New York City. Most of those films would fall solidly into the “cult” category.

Tunnel Vision — released into theaters in March 1976 — was the first movie he distributed. Read our previous post about Tunnel Vision here.

TUNNEL-VISION

Shapiro became very involved in spreading the concept of “midnight movies” across the country, screening into the wee hours in movie theaters that had typically locked their doors and turned out the lights in the late evenings.

Shapiro realized that keeping those movie screens lit up by film projectors — for an audience of teens and twenty-somethings who were also “lit up” — was a great opportunity for them to pay to see the films in his catalog, including concert films and “rockumentaries” — like Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps, Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii, Reggae Sunsplash, The Blank Generation, D.O.A. with the Sex Pistols, and many others — and having access to these films provided him with cool, hip content that would form the basis for the idea behind “Night Flight”: a “midnight movie”-esque cable TV channel for a younger generation of viewers who were still up after all of the other cable TV networks had gone to bed.

NIGHT FLIGHT AD 3

Jeff Franklin — who became Shapiro’s partner on “Night Flight” — had a friend who worked for the burgeoning network, and together they pitched their TV show idea to execs at USA, who agreed to let them have two hours on Friday nights and two hours on Saturday nights, from 11pm to 1am, from June ’81 until September.

Shapiro: “”You have to remember, this was three years before Apple’s New World Order. MTV hadn’t launched yet. Midnight Movies in smoke-filled theaters were raging across the land. The land of 500 channels of mediocrity had not yet trashed the airwaves. There were just a few national cable channels of which USA was one. We broadcast on only transponder at first, so when we went on the air — at 11pm EST — it was the same show playing in L.A. at 8pm. It was prime time national programming in half the country for the counter-culture.”

NIGHT FLIGHT AD  2

One fortuitously lucky thing that happened around the same time as the airing of the first episode of “Night Flight” was that there was a writers strike out going on out in Hollywood which had halted production on a lot of TV shows, including NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” which was airing on network TV as the same starting time as “Night Flight.”

Shapiro: “Night Flight was a beacon of fresh light, confirmation that you were not alone if you were a punk in a small town. That was Night Flight’s vision, our DNA. We’re still the same way today that we’ve been since 1981. Our passion to express individual creativity is as strong as ever. Nostalgia is the best smoke in town.”

“We’re thankful to have our own channel again with Night Flight Plus,” says Shapiro.“The best is yet to come.”

NIGHT FLIGHT AD 1

About Night Flight

Voice of a generation that spoke from 11PM-7AM EST Friday and Saturday on USA Network in the '80s. Back to enlighten and inspire 24/7.
  • Russell Haines

    Night Flight expanded my knowledge of Midnight Oil when they first tried to break the American market. I had the 10to1 album and loved it. Night Flight showed me a bunch of their earlier stuff and it served me well the first time I saw MO.

  • Michael Davis

    Holy crap Night Flight was a breath of fresh air to a rural Illinois kid getting smothered for lack of interesting culture in the early 80’s. Signed up for for a one year subscription and taking a walk down memory lane.