Here’s the Guy From Adult Swim Who Trawls Vimeo for Your Art School Thesis

Off the Air's Dave Hughes makes the weirdest stuff on TV

Dave Hughes is not a household name. He is, however, a beloved figure if you're really into strange art video and electronic music, largely because of his insane Adult Swim show, Off the Air.

The show is 15 minutes long, airs at 4 a.m. and has no conventional narrative structure—no A and B plots, no quirky supporting characters, no rules, just a theme that gives the show its title—Colors, Nightmares, Hair (see below). It's also beloved by a certain kind of ad creative, largely because of Hughes' eclectic, dead-on taste and his penchant for looking in every nook and cranny for the artists whose work he collages into Off the Air's various episodes, some of who are ad guys.

Hughes, who runs his own agency/production company, Million Monkeys, was kind enough to talk to us this week about slow TV. But he had so much to say about Off the Air and video creation and curation, we felt like a single quote wasn't enough.

How did Off the Air even happen?

We [Adult Swim] used to do this touring, county fair kind of thing, and I made a videotape to play behind the bands as they were playing. We used Prelinger Archives and a lot of other stuff to make it, and at the time we were starting to develop the 4 a.m. slot [which also includes Infomercials, the show that gave the world Too Many Cooks]. We were changing—the network started pretty experimental with stuff like 12 Oz. Mouse, and we were getting a little more normal. To Mike Lazzo's credit, he said, "I don't think it'll work, but give it a try."

Did you know it would work?

I didn't know if they'd go for it even after it had aired. I work in the building so it's kind of different from a normal pitch. It was more of a pestering. We ended up doing four of them—it timed out with the infomercials starting up, and he liked it and heard from other people that they liked it.

So much TV comes out on Blu-ray that might as well be on VHS, for all the difference it makes to the viewing experience, but Off the Air really seems to be about video quality and contrast. Can I have an Off the Air Blu-ray, please?

[Sighs] I would love a Blu-ray. There's never been a true-definition broadcast of it. You're right about the contrasts—there's a lot that's back-to-back of HD and very poor '70s film documentary stuff. I try to ride the crests and valleys in a lot of ways. It's never been done justice, but there will never be a Blu-ray. The rights were just one of the things we sacrificed to get the show made. We have to clear everything and pay for everything, and it's still a 4 a.m. show. There's no money in it. It was one of the things we gave up on. We said, "We won't release this this way, and that's part of why we're paying you so little, I'm sorry."

It means no iTunes, either. It would be nice.

I used to work on Beavis and Butthead and, in the same way, the videos [that the characters commented on] were always a thing.

Are these student films, or from artists you know, or what?

There are some students. With some people, I don't know what they are. There's one guy we recently used for the credits of Transportation, and I think just he's obsessed with this video game TrackMania. I don't know what he is. He could be in high school. To pay them, they have to be at least 18, but we don't know who a lot of these people are. Some are sort of high-end advertising people, mostly, who sort of vent on the side on Vimeo or whatever. And yeah, some are artists, but there's nobody I'm really cultivating except for a few people I go back to again and again. It's not really a crew—it's pretty serendipitous how we end up with who gets up in the show.

Do you just trawl Vimeo for these guys until you have enough stuff to make a new show?