Memories of “NBC News Overnight”, a cult-classic news show from 1982

Back when stations still signed off the air at midnight, and late night was a time for old movies, oddball stuff, and test patterns, NBC News Overnight was something truly special.

Still one of the best and most unique examples of TV journalism ever, “NBC News Overnight” came along in response to the then-nascent phenomenon of 24-hour news. As Ellerbee puts it, for an hour a night, “the inmates were allowed to run the asylum”. The result was a news show with a quirky, irreverent voice, unconstrained by the strict format limitations of the evening news, full of wit and humour. And great journalism. Longer pieces than would be permitted at 6pm. Nuanced, insightful, weird and wonderful. Linda Ellerbee and her co-hosts (first Lloyd Dobyns, later Bill Schechner) set the tone with their steady, dry delivery of pithy and pointed prose.

Thanks to an irregular work schedule and my new Betamax VCR, I watched regulary. I loved it.

It was 1983, in Oakland, California and I was about 18 years old. At that time it was possible for viewers of a show to have a genuine feeling of a “cult following” that was under the media radar and felt like something truly your own. “Late Night with David Letterman” still had that feeling – the world hadn’t discovered it yet.

It’s 30 years now, and a different world. Stations don’t sign off anymore and everything is available anytime on the computer or on your phone. And there’s YouTube, which every day becomes a better repository of past TV memories. Thinking of some obscure past TV moment? If you checked for it a couple of years ago, check again. I did… and found the entire last edition of NBC News Overnight in all its glory.

Strangely, I have always had a vivid recollection of the final part of that show – in particular, the rendition of “Beyond the Blue Horizon” which played over a video montage near the very end. And sure enough, there it was, just as I recalled (and in the same key). Have a look – and here is a wonderful interview with Linda Ellerbee that provides some fascinating insights into the show.

Finally, here’s another great appreciation of Overnight, from the person who digitized and published the entire last week of the show including the final one seen above.

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