The title of this piece is exactly what I said, when a coworker reacted with surprise about my recent exit from the wonderful show, Redeye. I said, “it’s the end of an error,” when of course, I meant, “era.”
Call it a Freudian slip, but staying true to Redeye, the mistake stays in.
It’s true. Redeye was probably the only taped show that – when one of us (mainly me) screwed up – we didn’t stop “down,” as it’s called, and start over. We refused to “do it right,” because we felt that when we did it wrong, it revealed the show’s humanity. We embraced our flaws, knowing that people who obsessed meticulously over appearances, are dicks.
See – we were screw ups. Just like you. Of course there were times when something had to be redone or just killed. But over 1800 shows, I could count those instances on a 17-fingered hand.
The show began a mess, and still continues as a mess – but a better, faster mess.
But who said great TV has to be neat?
It wasn’t that we young bucks were out to “break the rules.” No, we weren’t even young. We were just really bad at doing the job – because we didn’t know the job. But we learned the job, and then got better at messing with it. Which is how it should be done, I guess.
But what do I know? I was a magazine dude. I did some TV here and there before Redeye. I was one of those annoying talking heads that showed up on VH1 clip shows, and helped produce “Fugliest Rockers” for MTV. I did lots of other forgettable crap, and was often slightly buzzed while doing it. I used to do Headline News entertainment segments after four glasses of wine. That was idiotic, but I didn’t know better.
Creating Redeye – It’s a true tribute to FNC. They threw Andy Levy, Bill Schulz and me into the deep end of the pool and said, drown.
They knew, at three AM, no one would hear us flailing.
And boy did we flail. But over time the flailing turned into some kind of awful stroke that kept us afloat. Then we were actually doing something that resembled some sort of swimming. Maybe a dog paddle would be a better description. But by the end of the first year we could get from one side of the pool to the other without requiring a lifeguard with a long pole to fish us out.
What made Redeye work was the beautiful deal made between its staff and its viewers. The Redeye gang would refuse to underestimate the viewer’s intelligence, and the viewers would forgive us for our incoherence. Because we believed the viewers were just like us – viewers who were then drawn to Redeye ended up being JUST LIKE US. We attracted people that we would drink with, given the chance. These were late night types – up in the lonely hours for different reasons. Some had graveyard shifts. Others were nursing moms. Many, I learned were sick – or in hospitals, desperate for a distraction.
We got a butt load of hate mail at the start. Awful stuff. But it wasn’t from the left. Most was from the right. And, it wasn’t their fault. When they watched Redeye, they saw a group of giggly nincompoops in on some unfunny joke, making a mockery of TV. What they saw was what we all saw: we sucked. I just wished they were patient, because we got better at undermining chat TV.
The best part of the Redeye experience, for me, was “the letter.” I would get that one every now and then – from a person who had actively professed hatred for the show but now felt bad because they loved it. I return to the three-step equation of Redeye fandom: revulsion, confusion, obsession. You hate it, then you find it intriguing, then you get it.
The fans had favorites. Most of the girls liked Andy (for reasons I will never understand). Everyone love/hated Bill Schulz. The same person who would demand he get fired would be the same person, a week later, demanding he be promoted. My fan base consisted of sexy grandmothers, for some reason.
On my book tour, three groups would show up: the fans of the Five, the fans of Redeye, and the fans of both. The hardcore Redeye fans were the most intriguing because they fearlessly showed up at the signings with a “signal” of sorts. They’d be wearing something from the unicorn family, or bearing a sign referring to my stunted half brother, or offer me their child as a houseboy. It was a special club – all inclusive, and thoroughly unpretentious. They were young, old, big, hairy, hot, young, old, fat, muscular, pierced, inked – but what united them: a peculiar world view that made them different from the masses.
You can’t call it a cult because these people don’t join anything.
I could not imagine fans of other late night shows being as this off-the-wall clever. For years, I used fan-submitted guest introductions for the show – many superior to the ones I labored over on many an afternoon.
When fans showed up at FNC, they were not weird, or overbearing, or demanding. They were freaky normal, or normal freaks. They saw Redeye as their favorite band, but it was a band they saw every night at some bar, so they knew us too well. They also, accurately understood that they weren’t a huge group – numbering no more than a million or so – that knew this show so well.
As someone who came to TV late in my career (I was 42 or so when Redeye started), I was perhaps more grateful than others for the appreciation. And more respectful.
It was especially gratifying when you’d find out that people you admired watched the show religiously. Dennis Miller was an early fan, and he even had Bill, Andy, and I guest host his radio show when he was out. Who would do that??? Penn Jillette was a regular, supportive guest – who genuinely wanted us to succeed. It meant a lot when an independent subversive like Penn got it. There was Andrew WK, Larry Gatlin, Robert Davi, Fabio (yeah, Fabio), King Buzzo, Neil Hamburger, Jim Norton, Greg Proops – these were all successful iconic professionals who saw Redeye’s inherent worth. And there was Andrew Breitbart, a guest on my very first, and very awful show. He looked like a wandering medieval balladeer.
I have no idea what’s next – and how much of what’s next will reflect the same vibe as Redeye. I’m gunna follow the advice of the people who know this stuff: That for something to work, you must be yourself and let the show grow out of that.
I hope that whatever happens next will be every bit as inventive and surprising as Redeye. Redeye benefited from a time slot that almost eggs you on to do strange, wonderful, and slightly illegal things. How that works on weekends, in an earlier time slot – who knows. Stay tuned, as they say.
And please, keep watching Redeye. It’s going to change, but that’s exciting. And no doubt it will still be messy. It wouldn’t be Redeye if it wasn’t.