There are many great forms of programming available to stream at the moment that celebrate nostalgia, from full seasons of old game shows on Amazon Prime to shows like “The Toys That Made Us” on Netflix. And then there are the services entirely dedicated to the things you loved back in the day….
Granted, there are enough amateur videographers with admirable amounts of old VHS tapes ready to transfer that if you want a dose of TV the way you remember it in your salad days, pretty much all you need to curate that on your own is YouTube. We celebrated the art of the playlist a few months back with a curated list of Saturday morning memories, for example. There’s still something to be said, however, for finding terrific resources online for a crystal-clear picture and the occasional unexpected memory you never thought you’d peep again.
While some of the bigger streaming services have begun to dip their toes into rare, harder to find nostalgia – Amazon Prime, for example, has a number of mid-century video reels available on everything from drive-in movie intermissions to corporate sales films and that stuff is bananas – others have blazed a trail in this subset of streaming goodness. One of the latest of these services is Night Flight Plus, and if you are a child of the 80’s, chances are it’s going to ring a whole lot of bells…
For those who missed it the first time around – or are simply too young to have experienced it – Night Flight debuted in 1981 on the USA network as a late-night alternative to the MTV juggernaut, and indeed to Saturday Night Live when the show was off the air due to a writer’s strike. Clocking it at four hours, it played on well into the wee hours of the night with thematically programmed music videos, band interviews, movie trailers, short films and animation; basically, it was a whole lot more than MTV at the time, but in a beautifully presented format. The sonorous voice of Night Flight was Pat Prescott, a veteran DJ who still works in radio to this day (she’s at 94.7 “The Wave” in Los Angeles.) Above, you can see a bit of their 3rd anniversary special.
What was so exciting about Night Flight was that you more or less knew what you were going to get, but you could never be certain; if you stayed up way past your bedtime to watch, it was partially for some of your favorite tunes, but also with the hopes of having your mind blown by some crazy animation or a video profile of a band you’d never heard of who was sure to be your fave the next day. Sometimes you might even get a whole movie in the bargain; check out this preview of their upcoming season from 1985 which segues into a showing of the amazing rock flick Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. (Which you should also seek out, immediately, FYI.)
Currently, Night Flight Plus has some free preview clips to get a sense of their programming, but if you want to browse their entire catalogue it’ll cost you $4.99 a month. Which isn’t bad considering they’ve also collected a healthy amount of great stuff that has nothing whatsoever to do with Night Flight itself but is definitely in its spirit: Rock documentaries, cult films and animation abound. There’s even several compilations of Gumby for your enjoyment; who doesn’t love Gumby?! That said, the one thing it’s lacking is truly the big draw is entire episodes of Night Flight as they aired back in the 80’s; there are several, and they are great, even including vintage commercials in between the segments for that authentic retro experience. If the Plus really wants to step up its game though, we’re gonna need more… including the 90’s version of the show which aired in syndication after USA dropped it and was every bit as chock-full of delightful weirdness. (Such as a very young Alex Winter’s short film “Squeal of Death”, above. This is why it was worth it to be sleepy the next morning!)
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internets, there are examples of media companies doing their own thing and making loads of content available with their own libraries; perhaps the very best example of this is Shout Factory TV. The estimable Shout Factory, which has done such an extraordinary job of curating great movies and television in super-deluxe home video releases for decades, has launched an online compendium of terrific shows, flicks, and more which, granted, is not unlimited in the sense that all of it is stuff that they have the rights to. But a) it’s all awesome, and b) it’s FREE. You read that right, no monthly fee, nothing – it’s all free to stream, any time, and if you have a Chromecast or some other way to stream to your TV you’ve got tons of terrific content at your fingertips, some of which will jog those memory banks like whoa…
For example: If you were a huge Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, some of the greatest full episodes of schlock and chuckles are on Shout Factory TV. If you’re quite a bit older – old enough to remember the glory days of TV talk shows and the great Dick Cavett’s program, there are entire volumes of his interviews with some of the greatest actors, musicians, directors and other celebs of all time. (Do give that a watch, if you haven’t seen it; the Bowie episode is legendary.) And then, there are the true nuggets of nostalgia… did you ever think you’d see an episode of Starcade again, Eighties kids?! Yup, that short-lived game show that pitted teens against one another to play classic cabinet video games is available here. (Shout Factory’s YouTube channel has some of SFTV’s programming to preview, which is where we got the above full episode; does it get any more 80’s than Dragon’s Lair?! Stranger Things didn’t think so, after all.)
And the memories aren’t strictly limited to those of us who remember back into the Reagan era, by any means. Some truly terrific 90’s goodness is free to grok on SFTV, as well, and perhaps none is a finer treasure than The Weird Al Show. If you’re an Al Yankovic fan, you surely remember his all-too-short-lived Saturday morning variety show that came and went in 1997, but if you haven’t checked it out yet then we can’t recommend it enough. It’s everything you have always loved about Al’s music and humor, in sketch and musical interlude form with some unexpected cameos that we won’t ruin for you. But don’t take our word for it, dig the episode above! (The other twelve are on Shout Factory TV, whenever you’re ready…)
We highly encourage exploring the more niche streaming options out there – at least, when you’ve finished the new season of Arrested Development on Netfix, natch – so get out there and give these a whirl. OR tell us about an amazing service we didn’t discuss; tell us on social media with the hashtag #StreamTheLoot!