Red Eyed

Red Eye

What are libertarian-ish night creatures supposed to do now: be respectable?  Red Eye is ending for reasons more mysterious than the fact it made the air at all.  The asylum for those allergic to both Nancy Pelosi and daylight is being cleared via eminent domain.  Soon, another very important rerun of a show from hours before will run on a news channel.  Why would Fox News share anything fresh?  It’s not their business or anything.  Eyes will remain as red, just without a glowing screen as a remedy.

Red Eye served a faction of conservatives who treated being up too late as a virtue.  It’s a valid lifestyle choice, especially for those who live on their own terms.  As one might expect, anyone living so idiosyncratically tends to want government to bother only terrorists while leaving Americans the hell alone.  Daytime snoozers are bothered by debt and mandates, not pot or porn.

The Bart Simpson of Fox News found an eccentric audience that had been waiting for a similarly bizarre program.  Sad fans reminisce about jokes that were delightfully tasteless in the best way.  Like Joel Hodgson said about Mystery Science Theater 3000, the right people will get this. Our interactive world enabled ardent fans to tweet approval and commentary right along.  The muscle memory for typing “#Redeye” is still ingrained.

Fittingly, the smart-ass small-government fan found a spiritual home during an hour when normal people would be scared to visit a bus station. Degenerate insomniacs were innately pleased by irreverent takes on our world’s exhausting news.  Nothing was cathartic like a venue for mocking the sort of pompous newsmakers who were in bed by sunset.

As the last episode approaches, I can insufferably boast of watching from the first.  I expected a Hannity & Colmes repeat over a decade ago on some random weeknight and was instead greeted by a strange and wonderful off-kilter camera shot of a smirking host and panelists.  It was as if Fox News had read my mind: I had always hoped they’d offer a new cheeky transmission for the darkness crowd instead of a staid rerun from a decent hour.  I figured they stole my thoughts with News Corp’s mind ray.  But it was okay as long as there was something fun to watch.  Besides, the brain beam tickled.

I didn’t recognize original proprietor Greg Gutfeld by name but did know of his surreal unsigned copy in Stuff Magazine.  The demented take on politics was simultaneously incisive, as a person who took nothing seriously took on everything serious.  Study hall would’ve been intolerable without wise guys.

But Fox is done with being interesting.  Rumor holds that Tucker Carlson’s debates with hand-picked lunatics designed to make his primness seem reasonable will sadly occupy the hour while never filling it.  I’ll double-check Monday and turn it off four seconds after 3 a.m.  Going full circle sometimes forms a zero.

The modest thrill of seeing one’s name on TV at 3:57 a.m. is all that’s left.  I’ll always cherish a favorite cable personality reading my silly content on-air twice.  For one, I invented the Red Eye drink. Greg read my email in, can this be right, October 2007 after soliciting entries to create an official cocktail for a show that was begging for one.  I suggested a concoction I named Unicorn Juice (rum and Coke with vanilla syrup). Like the tagline said, it’s as sweet as ombudsman Andy Levy and goes down easier than then-sidekick Bill Schulz. The ensuing shot of the latter with his arms folded and shaking his head like he wanted to murder whoever wrote it is one you may recognize as the greatest moment of my life.

I was additionally lucky enough to hear my tweet read during the thousandth episode after solicitations for suggestions on how to spend the evening.  Mine was fittingly perverse. Unnatural pride in momentarily hearing one’s name is a byproduct of zealous devotion.  Also, I cherish the tangible reward that accompanied winning two of Greg’s drawings, which he used to send to those who suggested titles he liked via email.  The masterpieces feature Unicorn Jones and Fluffy McNutter, the show’s cartoon mascots who are very real to the likes of Greg and me. I had them framed.  Of course.

Fox News has to fund Bill O’Reilly’s lawsuits somehow.  I guess the highest-rated show possible at three in the freaking morning was a hemorrhage on a global conglomerate’s budget.  Obeying the calculator means disregarding the soul.  Sure, it’s cheaper to rerun something from the night before even if fewer watch because recycling removes one show’s expenses.  But the production cost reduction may be costly.  The network just ended a cheap experimental training ground. They found one of their 5 p.m. weekday and primetime weekend presenters by letting him figure it out during the weirdo hour.  Fox & Friends is disturbed in a different sense.

Like Bill after his visits to Switzerland, my viewing habits had already begun to transition.  I watched the entire Trump News Channel less as it made North Korean state TV look nuanced by comparison.  And familiar Red Eye guests appeared less frequently, replaced by Coys and Vances who didn’t spark the same chemistry with me.  I’m glad it was the unnervingly wholesome funnyman Tom Shillue replacing Greg if the move had to be made, but news executives didn’t ask my opinion.

At least memories of references will continue. Countless segments and incidents on this little late-night show with the same budget as Shepard Smith’s pocket square allocation inspired so much mirth.  The Notorious P.A.B., Robot Theater, and Pinch the Talking Newspaper are shorthand for moments that outsiders roll their eyes at while fans giggle like mental patients.  Social media camaraderie among those with a taste for the twisted made the nightly crawlspace tour even more fun.

Some questions will never be answered. I’ll always wonder what happened to frequent ad break regulars Cancer Peggy and Catheter Holly, Greg’s stunted half-brother Gunnar, and frequent early guest Ron Geraci.  At the same time, I’m grateful for having discovered talented people like Patti Ann Browne, Lauren Sivan, Terry Schappert, Mike Baker, and Joe DeVito on the unhinged panel.  They’ve all been kind to fans even when restraining orders would be appropriate

I can’t think of another forum that allowed the likes of Kurt Loder, Jim Norton, and Andrew W.K. to discuss the day’s issues, at least not off the top of my head.  And the initial broadcast was the first time I encountered Andrew Breitbart, the man more responsible than anyone for both today’s brand of subversive conservatism and Red Eye getting on air.

Getting locked in the basement can be its own adventure.  It felt like the right place.  Every surreal hour seemed like it embodied New York City’s openness to absurdity. Staying up when the normals were sleeping responsibly simply confirmed it.  The draw was clear even in the dead of night.  I didn’t live on the same island as Red Eye’s studio when the show started, but I do now.

The evening excitement is about to end as time marches on.  Soon, some faceless FNC Trump-humping hour won’t have to move their furniture off the set every night.  The quirky culture both spurred and revealed by the most refreshing offering ever shared on cable news will experience a diaspora now, but every fan will take the rebellious attitude along.

Like the Velvet Underground’s fans all starting bands, Red Eye’s devotees will keep skewering pomposity through snark.  If it’s your only weapon, hone it.  Now, I can only indulge in YouTube playlists of the show that made staying up too late fun and wander aimlessly through Bryant Park.  Red Eye is ending.  The amazing thing was that it ever begun.

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One comment

  1. Tom Dunlap · April 6

    Fantastic column. Thanks. And what about all the babes we stumbled across over the years? I’ll miss them, although they hadn’t been on as much lately. Carrie, Lori, Jedediah, Bonnie, JoAnne, etc. I also like your list of great panelists. I’m in California. Six months ago I ran into Joe DeVito in Santa Cruz. He was the nicest, friendliest celebrity I’ve ever met. I asked him about Greg. We had a nice chat. Anyway, thanks again for the great column.

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