Let me tell you a story. I am a storyteller, after all…
Several months ago, the METV Network, who already do themselves proud by presenting genre classics such as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THRILLER, STAR TREK, LOST IN SPACE and my HorrorHost companion Svengoolie, began showing episodes of Rod Serling's follow-up series, NIGHT GALLERY.
NIGHT GALLERY Opening Titles
I was intrigued, as I had enjoyed much of this series, but I had my concerns. It appeared as though METV would be broadcasting the show in 30 minute segments. This meant that it would probably not be the original episode format, but rather, the syndicated package that the studio, Universal, put together after the series had been cancelled, much to Mr. Serling's consternation and against his wishes. (We'll definitely talk about that as we continue, but I don't want to get ahead of myself…)
I decide to tune in the premiere episode, and, to my disappointment, found my fears realized: this would be the NIGHT GALLERY found in syndication, the edited and bastardized episodes that almost buried the show and never allowed it to achieve the popularity that THE TWILIGHT ZONE had enjoyed.
I sent the following message out on various Horror and Dark Fantasy blogs online:
“ I have suffered for your sins, my children. I have stayed up very late and watched METV's broadcast of NIGHT GALLERY so you don't have to. It's not the original; it's the syndicated abomination that slashed whole episodes and added ridiculous stock footage to pad short segments. Avoid it; watch the actual episodes on Netflix or Hulu and get a good night's sleep. This is simply a waste of time.”
I received several responses to the post, including these from the HorrorHost Underground:
“I noticed that it was the slashed version too. The edited so badly stories make no sense. Go to HULU and watch it.” – Ormsby Host
“Or get the DVDs and the extras that may be explored therein... nowhere will you find Gary Collins in this collection...” – Shane M. Dallmann
“Thank you for taking one for the team, and for the heads up, Brother Carpathian! Though Rod Serling himself called the original series "the weekly trip to the boneyard", I would imagine even he has rolled over a few times in his grave at those awful bastardizations of his work.” – A. Ghastlee Ghoul
And from the HP Lovecraft Appreciation Group came this query from founder Jim Khennedy:
“Wonder why anyone thought that would be a good thing to do? I'm told episodes of a 60-minute show (maybe it was called ESP?) were sliced down to 30 to syndicate as "Night Gallery" episodes. True?”
“Actually, Jim, the series was called "The Sixth Sense"; no relation at all to the Bruce Willis film. It concerned a psychic investigator, usually solving ghostly crimes or other paranormal events. It wasn't a great series, like "The X Files" or "The Twilight Zone", but it wasn't bad either. Harlan Ellison worked on it for several weeks before fleeing screaming down a stairwell (literally). The producers were never clear on the concept,; one actually described it as "Perry Mason with ESP", so it wasn't a genuine Horror series. Still, because of the "Night Gallery" debacle, few people know of it besides those awful 30 minute trashed segments, and the original series will probably never get a genuine DVD release. Which is a shame; several episodes were quite effective.
As to why they did what they did in syndicating "Night Gallery" - well, that's a topic I could go on and on about. It's probably worth a good long essay in my crypt, probably after the new year. I'll have to give that some consideration.”
And so I did. I'd been wanting to talk about this for quite some time, and this seemed as appropriate a moment as any.
What follows, like most of my tales, is more than simply a narrative of events. The subtext is equally important; else why go on at length about a television series long gone from the regular airwaves, created by a (admittedly legendary) writer who has also passed from this world? Why would it really matter today?
This is, in truth, a tale about Art versus Commerce; it's a story of how a creative intellect can be corrupted, beyond his ability to resist, by the irresistible forces of ignorance, antipathy and an inability to see beyond what's directly in front of an individual's vision. It's about how special dreamers and the creative are undone by those who cannot dream, and don't care that they cannot. It's about how the myopic vision of those who control the pursestrings and the entertainment arenas, be it television, film, theater, books or the Internet, debase and degrade what they don't understand or are openly hostile to, and how we, who love the genre of the Dark Fantastic, are left the poorer for it, considered by the Powers-That-Be to be simply marketing statistics, no better fit for anything beyond senseless, countless remakes, retreads and regurgitations, while the true Artist is ignored and abandoned.
This is the tale of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY; it's a cautionary tale, one of both tragedy and triumph, for what could have been and what briefly was, however flawed.
The history of NIGHT GALLERY begins even as THE TWILIGHT ZONE was fading from the television airwaves. Mr. Serling was quite exhausted by the end of the five-year run of his landmark series, yet when competing network ABC made an offer to buy the broadcast rights to THE TWILIGHT ZONE and continue the show that CBS had cancelled, he was quite tempted.
The problem was that CBS owned the TWILIGHT ZONE package, from format to actual name, and they refused to part with it. Failing to gain the original program, ABC suggested that Mr. Serling create another series for their network, another show featuring the Dark Fantastic, but focusing more on the Horror genre in particular than THE TWILIGHT ZONE had.
Mr. Serling had, during his time on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, adapted his scripts into three volumes of TWILIGHT ZONE short stories, and had edited two collections of classic tales of terror: “Rod Serling's Devil's & Demons”, and “Rod Serling's Triple W: Witches, Warlocks & Werewolves”. ABC thought “Witches, Warlock's & Werewolves” would be a perfect title and concept for the new show, and pressed Mr. Serling to create the new series along these lines.
But while Mr. Serling was quite happy to explore a Horror television series, he thought the concept as outlined by ABC would be far too limiting. His intentions were to use Horror on the new series, as he had used Fantasy and Science Fiction on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, to comment on the human condition, and create powerful, controversial and contemporary stories that commented on the perilous times of the 1960s in ways that couldn't be dealt with using mainstream drama. He suggested a different title: “Weird, Wild & Wondrous”. (Although I think he may have been speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek with this proposal.)
ABC rejected his idea, and Mr. Serling proposed an alternate concept: ROD SERLING'S WAX MUSEUM. During the opening credits, a helicopter view would show Boldt Castle on Heart Island in upstate New York . It would fade into the interior of a large museum area, a long staircase with shadowy figures lining the walls. Mr. Serling would start down the stairs, beginning his introduction for the evening's story, and pause before a shrouded statue. As he would describe the person beneath and the story, he would remove the shroud to show a wax figure of the actor starring in that evening's tale. The camera would move in close on the figure, and fade into the story…
Painting for "The Cemetary" from the NIGHT GALLERY movie
Here, in this brief introduction, were all the elements that would later find a home in NIGHT GALLERY: Mr. Serling acting as an on-air host at the beginning of each program; the museum setting, the use of an object of art as a springboard into the short story. The elements would be refined later, both visually and thematically, but they were present as early as that first synopsis.
ABC insisted on the “Witches, Warlocks & Werewolves” theme; Mr. Serling balked at this,
making disparaging remarks about “weekly ghouls”, and telling an interviewer at “Daily Variety”, “I don't mind my show being supernatural, but I don't want to be hooked into a graveyard every week…” and predicting that the concept would lead to “…walking dead and maggots…I don't think TV can sustain C-pictures every week.”
Like THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Mr. Serling had loftier ambitions for his show, but the network, not understanding the concept that couldn't be broken down into the simplest terms, refused to go along. THE TWILIGHT ZONE left the airwaves in June of 1964, and with no follow-up series, Mr. Serling pursued other avenues of interest, including motion pictures; adapting, among others, the original PLANET OF THE APES in 1967. The movie can easily be read as an expanded idea for THE TWILIGHT ZONE, up to and including the shocking final twist and image, a scene not present in the novel the film was based on. Those touches were pure Rod Serling.
In 1967 Mr. Serling again tried his hand at prose, and produced a collection titled “The Season To Be Wary”, three separate novelettes of the bizarre and horrific. (You can learn more about the collection on my RECOMMENDATIONS Page for this month.) Pleased with the results, Mr. Serling again pitched a series idea to a network, this time NBC, through Universal studios. The idea was of an art gallery featuring bizarre paintings; each painting would be the jumping off point for a story of the Dark Fantastic. He named the concept NIGHT GALLERY.
NBC and Universal disliked the idea, and rejected it. The studio and network both thought that a supernatural television series was old hat, and that nobody would be interested in seeing “those kinds of stories”. (Once again proving the amazing precognitive powers of network executives; after all, THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY'S BABY, two critically and financially successful films released a scant 5 years later, showed there was absolutely no interest in the supernatural with regards to the viewing public. Forgive the sarcasm…)
This is also a strictly personal observation, but I believe that the network had caught on to what Mr. Serling was doing at this time; he had used THE TWILIGHT ZONE to comment on war, bigotry, poverty, injustice, and a variety of social problems under the guise of “harmless fantasy”. Television of that era was uniformly bland and strove to be uncontroversial, and I think the executives at Universal and NBC knew full-well that Mr. Serling intended to use Horror to slaughter some of the nation's sacred cows, and wanted nothing to do with it. (He was actually able to do so, even on a limited basis, during NIGHT GALLERY's run.) Along these same lines, Gene Roddenberry, who had achieved the same results using SF on STAR TREK, was having great difficulty pursuing his other projects as well…
Painting for "Eyes" from the NIGHT GALLERY movie
A renowned television producer working at Universal, William Sackheim, found the proposal, admired Mr. Serling's work, and thought the concept would make a wonderful series. Failing to interest Universal in a weekly venture, Mr. Sackheim offered to produce the project as a one-time television movie-of-the-week, and Universal agreed. Production began in the fall of 1969.
Throughout the production several sources, including Mr. Sackheim and Mr. Serling, pushed for the idea to become a weekly series, but the studio was dug in and wouldn't be persuaded. “I kept saying, ‘There's a series here', and ‘Can we make a deal with Rod?'” said Mr. Sackheim. But there was no interest in having NIGHT GALLERY on NBC's weekly schedule.
Until the movie, broadcast on November 8, 1969 , became the highest rated program that evening, and was awards a special “Edgar” Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Outstanding Drama of 1969. Then there was a flurry of interest…
A deal was struck quickly, but NBC's confidence in the series still wasn't overwhelming. They decided the show would be one of four revolving programs, under the umbrella title “Four-In-One”, that would alternate every six weeks. Mr. Sackheim, as much as he enjoyed working with Mr. Serling, didn't want to return to the pressures of a weekly series, and begged off producing the show. A replacement was found, in a gentleman named Jack Laird.
Rod Serling & artist Tom Wright study Mr. Wright's "Class Of '99"
painting (for Mr. Serling's script) on the NIGHT GALLEY set.
Before we go into Mr. Laird's legacy on NIGHT GALLERY, let's talk a bit about what made this show so innovative, original, and startling, and what the network feared and (seemed to) hate the most about it.
The anthology series has been with us since the beginning of television; the idea of presenting an original drama where each week would be a self-contained episode found its heyday of glory during the Golden Age when series such as PLAYHOUSE 90, KRAFT TELEVISION THEATER, ALCOA PREMIERE and WESTINGHOUSE DESILU PLAYHOUSE lured the finest talents in television writing, directing and acting into their stables. Rod Serling first achieved fame on these programs, as did Reginald Rose (TWELVE ANGRY MEN, THE DEFENDERS), Paddy Chayefsky (NETWORK, ALTERED STATES), Gore Vidal (THE LEFT-HANDED GUN, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER) and Horton Foote (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, TENDER MERCIES).
(Actually, the anthology series has been with us well since the early days of radio, with programs such as LIGHTS OUT, INNER SANCTUM, ESCAPE, QUIET PLEASE, DIMENSION X and SUSPENSE bringing new stories and characters every episode.)
The anthology shows continued through the 1960s and ‘70s, although they began to dwindle in the later portion of that decade as studios decided 1) creating a new cast and setting each week was cost prohibitive, and 2) audiences wanted to follow the continuing adventures of regular characters over the course of several seasons. Still, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY, POLICE STORY, LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE, MASTERPIECE THEATER and MYSTERY flourished (and the latter two still continue to today, although they've changed their formats to feature mini-series; short runs of multi-episode series featuring continuing characters, not in keeping with the true anthology tradition.)
Many of the best remembered anthology series were in the Dark Fantastic genre; among them THRILLER, THE OUTER LIMITS, DARKROOM, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, AMAZING STORIES, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, WAY OUT, and, of coursed, THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
(and while the concept of the anthology series faltered on network television – the last series of this type was FEAR ITSELF, produced by the creators of MASTERS OF HORROR, only lasted a few weeks – cable television took up the practice and found great success, with everything from the soft-core erotica RED SHOW DIARIES to children's programming ARE YOU AFRIAD OF THE DARK? and GOOSEBUMPS to adult genre fare such as the aforementioned MASTERS OF HORROR, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, RAY BRADBURY THEATRE and THE HITCHHIKER.)
Still, apart from LOVE AMERICAN STYLE (which was, in reality, a series of comedy sketches with some occasional drama contained in each episode), all the series above had one shared trait: even though it featured a constantly changing cast of characters and storylines from week to week, each episode would one 30 or 60 minute segment for the week. In other words, you tuned in each week to see one complete story, be it classics like “Lamb To The Slaughter”, “Demon With A Glass Hand”, or “Time Enough At Last”.
What Mr. Serling wanted to attempt, what NIGHT GALLERY was planned to be that set it apart from any other television series before, was to host multiple segments each week; two or three different stories that could range from the black comic to the sardonic to the quietly eerie to out and out horrific – all within the same hour! Mr. Serling wanted to present a genuine anthology series, much like the newsstand magazines “Weird Tales” and “Astounding” and “Fantasy & Science Fiction”, presenting several stories at one time for the audiences entertainment.
Further – Mr. Serling planned that each segment would be free from the restrictions of arbitrary length, as in the 30 minute cookie-cutter format found in most dramas and situation comedies (including his own TWILIGHT ZONE). Some segments might indeed be 30 minutes, but others could be a short 10 minute punch of terror, while others might be a longer 45 minute character study. In other words, Mr. Serling wanted each segment to last as long as the story itself required , no more and no less. Writers would not be forced to stretch out a short idea into a 30 minute slot, nor edit down a longer tale into the same time structure. This was to allow incredible freedom for the writers to tell any tale they wanted to the best of their abilities. (Ironically, years later, CBS's revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE would opt for the same format.)
Painting for "Escape Route" from the NIGHT GALLERY movie
Now, this was a very bold and ground-breaking idea, doubly so because the production requirements for the series would be enormously stressful. After all, a 15 minute segment might require the same set design, dressing, makeup effects and music as you would dedicate to the longer segments; length of time couldn't sacrifice quality. In addition, each segment would be handled by a different director, sometimes filming simultaneously with other segments so that the individual stories could be placed in the appropriate slots per episode.
In theory, and in practice, this would cause tremendous production difficulties and challenges to the NIGHT GALLERY crew, but it would also prove to be invigorating and freeing, allowing the directors and production staff to indulge their creativity and design each segment as they thought would prove most effective. (For instance, some segments might only require a limbo or suggested and surreal set, due to the nature of the teleplay, while others might need genuine locations. All this was to be left to the discretion of the directors, writers, designers and, of course, the producers.)
Naturally, this was a huge incentive for television's most creative to try their hands at genuinely experimental drama. (Indeed, as is so often reported in interviews, the directors almost uniformly remember their efforts on NIGHT GALLERY as being some of their happiest and most creative days, and many went on to careers on the big screen, including, in addition to Mr. Spielberg, John Badham [WAR GAMES], Jeannot Szwarc [SOMEWHERE IN TIME], Theodore J. Flicker [THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST], and Leonard Nimoy, who received his first directing credit for a NIGHT GALLERY episode before going on to the STAR TREK movies and THREE MEN & A BABY.)
Obviously, if Mr. Serling had achieved his goal, NIGHT GALLERY would have been a touchstone television series, inspiring other experimental drama. It's to his credit that, even with the tides against him (which we will discuss shortly) he was able to enjoy some success in this area. Naturally enough, the network and studio were very wary about this entire venture, not only for the possible expense and cost overruns, but more importantly for the fact that this wouldn't “look” or “feel” like “regular television”. Viewers wouldn't understand or accept multiple segments per hour. What if they didn't like the first story and switched over during the commercial break? It was extremely daring and controversial, and if one generalization can be made about the executives in charge of these institutions is that where money was concerned, innovation was no incentive at best and unwelcome at worst.
Still, the movie had done well, and they decided, perhaps in a fit of madness or optimism, to go along with Mr. Serling's dreams and goals, and they set about this task by first securing the talents of a first-rate producer…
I'll try to be as fair as possible. Mr. Laird has gotten a bad reputation with the show's fans as the gentleman responsible for most of the faults with the NIGHT GALLERY series. But Mr. Laird was a talented writer and producer of quality television; that fact can't be denied.
He was responsible (along with Gene Roddenberry) for several scripts for the marvelous and unusual Western HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. After his tenure with that show he moved on to write for and produce BEN CASEY, and later helped develop and produce the ground-breaking rotation series (doctors, lawyers, police and senator) THE BOLD ONES. He is perhaps most famous as the producer of the gritty 1970s police drama KOJAK starring Telly Savalas; his other major genre credit, besides NIGHT GALLERY, was producing the television mini-series adaptation of Thomas Tryon's THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME.
Nevertheless, it's been a well-known and often told tale about Mr. Laird “borrowing” story concepts from old pulp magazines for various episodes of his series, much to the consternation of Harlan Ellison, who learned of this first hand. And whatever quality he brought to his television projects, it was clear from the beginning that Mr. Laird and Mr. Serling had very different ideas on what made good television.
And this was problematic. Because, after five years of Executive Producing THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Mr. Serling was not eager to jump into the creative pool in such a capacity again. He proclaimed, “Television production is a young man's game,” and didn't insist on creative control when he decided to accept NBC's offer to develop the series. After all, the full title of the series was officially ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY, and with his name possessive in the opening credits, he assumed that his word would be law, and his wished acquiesced to.
And so are disasters created.
It's a rarely known fact that Mr. Serling didn't produce THE TWILIGHT ZONE alone. A gentleman named Buck Houghton was the nuts-and-bolts everyday line producer of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, hiring directors, renting facilities, checking with costume and makeup, scheduling the shooting, overseeing the editing, and doing everything necessary to make the production smooth and professional.
This is not to negate Mr. Serling's influence; Rod Serling was THE TWILIGHT ZONE, its inspiration and ideas, its creator and dreamer, and Mr. Houghton was tasked with making those dreams reality on film. The two men complimented each other perfectly, and their partnership was one of legend. Most importantly, Mr. Houghton saw his job as having the responsibility of bringing Mr. Serling's vision to the screen in as pure a form as possible, budget and time-constraints notwithstanding. He acknowledged Mr. Serling's sensibilities with regard to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and carried out his duties honorably.
If Mr. Laird had acted in the same way on NIGHT GALLERY, another television classic may have been born. But Mr. Laird didn't share Mr. Serling's sensibilities, and without the creative control spelled out contractually, felt no need to accept Mr. Serling's advice or vision in producing the series. There were reports of Mr. Laird or his staff rewriting Mr. Serling's work, of his rejecting stories that Mr. Serling wanted to do, of ignoring Mr. Serling's desires on the show's direction. As much as Mr. Serling admired Mr. Laird's talents in some areas (which he attested to in various memos and missives), there was no communication as there had been on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and no consensus of how the show should reflect Mr. Serling's tastes and desires.
Add to this fact the nervousness of the network and studio over this unusual new venture, and Mr. Serling found himself again battling for the artistic life of his creation. But this time he didn't have a contractual edge to use as leverage, and he discovered to his great dismay that whatever credits and prestige he had accumulated with THE TWILIGHT ZONE, on NIGHT GALLERY he was to be simply another hired hand, no less influential, but certainly no more.
Rod Serling on the NIGHT GALLERY set
The entire experience was extremely discouraging to Mr. Serling; it drained his energy, and in many ways caused him to doubt his talents and abilities. That is probably the greatest crime that can be laid at the feet of NIGHT GALLERY's production. As a close friend, producer Dick Berg, remarked, “Rod was much less than a happy and contented man in the last ten years of his life. His own self-esteem had deteriorated. I don't think this depressed him, but I do think it made him less comfortable here and somewhat disenchanted with the business.”
Mr. Serling was, however, still a fighter, and he didn't suffer in silence. In interviews he made his feelings about the situation quite plain. “I wanted a series with distinction, with episodes that said something; I have no interest in a series which is purely and uniquely suspenseful but totally uncommentative on anything.” When his protests failed to bring about change, he spoke out again: ‘When I complain, they pat me on the head, condescend and hope I'll go away.”
But he wasn't going anywhere; despite not having creative control, he was contractually bound to the series, and felt determined to put as much of himself into it as possible, whether he succeeded or not. “On TWILIGHT ZONE I took the bows but I also took the brickbats, and properly, because when it was bad it was usually my fault,” he would say in later years. “But when it was bad on GALLERY I had nothing to do with it – yet my face was on it all the time…”
During the second season, when the show's ratings were beginning to falter, Universal and NBC began rejecting Mr. Serling's more thoughtful pieces in favor of standard, conventional fright fare. The series opposite NIGHT GALLERY on CBS was the detective show MANNIX, a series distinguished by its action and gunfights. As his show was being twisted beyond his control, and as they turned down several of his scripts as being “too thoughtful”, he made his most famous statement, one that is still quoted today: “They don't want to compete against MANNIX in terms of contrast, but similarity… The way the studio wants to do it, a character won't be able to walk by a graveyard. He'll have to be chased. They're trying to turn it into MANNIX in a shroud”.
Such candor was not appreciated by either NBC or Universal, and Mr. Serling found himself persona-non-grata with both institutions. But if the series never reached the ambitious goals Mr. Serling set for it, it still produced some very worthwhile and extraordinary television, earning it a distinguished place in television's history.
Until it was put into syndication…
But we'll save that dark tale, and an examination of why NIGHT GALLERY never quite achieved the artistic heights of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for next time. And if you're the sort of individual that can't tear their eyes away from a terrible automobile accident shown in slow motion, you'll want to be here; for this is a cautionary tale that will rival any such cataclysm.
Join me, and shake your head sadly in sheer amazement at what a typical studio thinks of the Horror genre in general, and its fans in particular. It will confirm your darkest suspicions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Last time we were discussing Rod Serling's follow-up to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and the various tensions in play that lead NIGHT GALLERY to become an ambitious failure or a success that fell short of its potential, depending on your viewpoint.
It's a completely impartial, objective observation that NIGHT GALLERY simply wasn't as well-received as THE TWILIGHT ZONE; TWILIGHT ZONE lasted five seasons, compared to NIGHT GALLERY 's three. (Actually two-and-a-half, considering that the first season was an abbreviated one, sharing its timeslot with three other shows under the FOUR-IN-ONE banner.) THE TWILIGHT ZONE, during its first three seasons, could often be found in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings; NIGHT GALLERY barely survived cancellation its after its second season. And TWILIGHT ZONE was almost universally acclaimed, while NIGHT GALLERY received very mixed reviews.
In hindsight, these factors aren't surprising at all. In its favor, NIGHT GALLERY was far more experimental than THE TWILIGHT ZONE; as we discussed previously, it was to be a genuine anthology series, with it's sixty minute running time broken up into two or three segments per week, while THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for all its imaginative storylines, was a traditional thirty minute weekly drama (or comedy). In other words, without being necessarily a fan of the Dark Fantastic, a viewer could enjoy THE TWILIGHT ZONE on its own as another television series; NIGHT GALLERY would appeal to a different set of tastes and expectations, and to the more adventurous viewer.
But there were other pressures at work as well, that affected the overall quality of the show. The failure of NIGHT GALLERY to recapture the artistic heights of its predecessor can be divided into three separate factions: the production difficulties of creating such an untraditional series, the interference and conflicts with both the studio and the producers aligned against Mr. Serling (although the full extent of the studio's destructive abilities wouldn't be shown until syndication), and, sadly, with Mr. Serling's own abilities. Let's examine each of these difficulties in some depth.
Painting for the episode "Midnight Never Ends". Artist Tom Wright
would paint family, friends and associates as his subjects; yes, that's
Rod Serling as the wandering minstrel.
Producing a weekly series, any weekly series, is a massive undertaking. There is the constant pressures and demands of time and money, shortchanging even the most artistically motivated attempts. A common phrase used by many in the industry is, “It doesn't have to be good, it has to be ready by Tuesday!” There's more truth to that than even the most dedicated artist would care to admit. Film crews, editors, writers, directors, actors and producers must constantly be pushing forward to assure that episodes are ready for broadcast in their appointed time-slots.
This is a fearful grind for a person of average talent and ambition; for somebody that wants to achieve as much quality as possible, for somebody that wants to reach artistic heights of greatness, this can be crippling. There's simply no time available; no time to look for just the right stories to tell, no time to polish the performances to bring out every subtle nuance, no time to frame each shot in the best possible cinematography. Worst of all, no time to try it again if you fail to get it right the first time. Television, unlike movies, is produced on a run with the deadlines carved in stone.
Considering how the odds are stacked against any quality production, the miracle is that it's so often achieved. HILL STREET BLUES, THE PRISONER, STAR TREK, HOUSE, THE X FILES, EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, CHEERS, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, THE FUGITIVE, BARNEY MILLER, and countless others are testimony that it is possible.
(And if you wonder why I haven't included such landmark shows as DEADWOOD, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, THE SHIELD, and DOCTOR WHO; these are produced on cable where the production schedules are less frantic. Fewer episodes are produced, and there is time between seasons to assure the shows of the quality necessary. The shows I've listed above were all produced for network television, which produces even less episodes now than they did in the 1950s and 60s, when the average television season consisted of thirty to thirty-six episodes. Yes, the mind boggles.)
Some shows naturally lend themselves to a smoother production. For instance, a situation comedy, say THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW or I LOVE LUCY , usually take place on one set, with some new ones added depending on the storylines. Producers can concentrate their attention on the writing and performances, and less film has to be shot per day to maintain the production deadlines.
Hour-long dramas are much harder; twice as much film must be produced in that same week of production, so the pace must necessarily be faster. Still, on shows such as PERRY MASON, HOUSE and ST ELSEWHERE , you are still using standing sets week after week. Even shows such as THE FUGITIVE and ROUTE 66 , which moved to different locations week after week, were filmed in familiar places, and backlots and standing sets could be utilized.
Moving up in difficulty are the anthology series, such as POLICE STORY and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS . There are no standing sets to fall back on; one week the show may be set in a gas station, the next a submarine, the following week an office building. Everything must be leased or built from scratch for that week only; this includes the costumes and props used. Everything is disposable, and costs are beginning to escalate.
Now imagine a SF or Fantasy series. Nothing can be leased, and almost everything must be designed and built from scratch. Yes, you have the sets of the Enterprise on STAR TREK, but each planet visited will have a different culture, which means different clothes, buildings, paintings, vehicles, animals, on and on and the producers are now swallowing aspirin like candy. And if you have a SF anthology like THE OUTER LIMITS and THE TWILIGHT ZONE …well, it's too horrible to contemplate.
Production Designer Joe Alves
So NIGHT GALLERY had a huge handicap going in from the start. But its demands were even more pressing, if that was possible, because each sixty minute segment was divided up into shorter stories, each one completely different from the others! The fact that the show was produced with any quality at all is due to the heroic efforts of production designer Joe Alves (who went on to work with Steven Spielberg on JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND before becoming a director himself). Week after week Mr. Alves and his staff would raid the other standing sets on the Universal lot for anything they could use for NIGHT GALLERY – set decorations, costumes, even whole sets that would be appropriate for the stories planned.
One reason that THE TWILIGHT ZONE achieved such a phenomenal look on the small screen was because the production company rented studio space from MGM. At the time it was the largest movie studio in existence, and the standing outdoor sets alone were a gold mine for television production requirements. There were western streets, suburban neighborhoods, jungles, farms, castles, almost anything needed; all that was required was a simple redressing for the episode. Producer Buck Houghton made an extraordinarily shrewd choice for his requirements, and sets from films such as MEET ME IN ST LOUIS, THE TIME MACHINE, the ANDY HARDY films and THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE were used to great advantage. (As well as some excellent locations, including Death Valley , which doubled for several alien landscapes.)
They also had full use of stock footage, props and costumes from Science Fiction films, including many from the classic FORBIDDEN PLANET. (The spaceship made an appearance in several episodes, including “The Invaders”.) Universal Studios, as large and prestigious as some of their productions were, simply didn't have the facilities and resources to draw upon. This was especially true of their television work, which tended to use generic sets for most of their productions. Because of this, even the quality episodes of NIGHT GALLERY suffered in comparison to THE TWILIGHT ZONE 's more polished presentations.
For example, when THE TWILIGHT ZONE filmed it's episode aboard a cursed ocean liner, “Judgment Night”, it was able to use sets from the aforementioned THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE , and the atmosphere was quite moody and impressive. When NIGHT GALLERY filmed its similarly themed “Lone Survivor”, it was obviously filmed on a standing shipboard set, with stock footage of an ocean liner cut into the episode, and the believability suffered as a result.
In the prose version of “The Messiah On Mott Street ” in Mr. Serling's “Night Gallery 2” collection, young Mikey walks a great distance around the slums and streets of New York, and his journey is frightening and powerful. In the filmed version, he simply walks across the street and has his conversations with the street Santa and the religious madman, and the cumulative effect of his night journey is lost. Could this have been handled better? Of course; in many instances television programs will redress the same area of a street set to make it seem like several different locations. (The film BLADE RUNNER did this quite effectively.) Either the creative talents behind the filmed “ Mott Street ” didn't have the money or time to do this, or it was beyond their artistic abilities.
Time can also be crippling in attempting to produce special makeup and optical effects; if something goes wrong there isn't an opportunity to redo it the correct way, as you can on a motion picture. The prose version of “Lindeman's Catch”, Mr. Serling's tale of a hard-hearted fisherman who nets a mermaid and falls in love with her, is dark and wonderfully atmospheric, and the final revelation of the metamorphosis of the mermaid after Lindeman offers her the potion to grow human legs is heartbreaking and horrifying.
But in the filmed episode, the makeup effect of the transformed mermaid is simply ridiculous, provoking a smile instead of terror. The makeup people did the best they could on such short notice, but were unable to solve the problems in time. They admit this; the director Jeff Corey admitted his dissatisfaction, and the producers were unhappy. Why they chose then to film the makeup in full studio lighting instead of attempting some other method of filming to hide the deficiencies is a mystery, but the episode must sadly count as a failure in this regard.
Money was also at a premium with much of the filming of the “night” scenes on NIGHT GALLERY . There wasn't provisions in the budget to film stories taking place at night during total darkness, so the compromise of filming “day-for-night” (the practice of filming during daylight hours and using heavy filters over the camera lens) was used instead. (In episodes such as “The Phantom Farmhouse”, “Brenda”, and “Green Fingers”, among others.) You've seen this in hundreds, if not thousands of low budget films, and it never looks proper. For a television series dedicated to the Dark Fantastic, filming at night is essential for many if not most of their stories, and this proved disastrous; in several interviews, Mr. Serling expressed his displeasure for the “day-for-night” technique, a technique rarely used on THE TWILIGHT ZONE . “It's infrequent that you can shoot night-for-night. If you'll notice on NIGHT GALLERY , very frequently it's supposed to be night, and, Goddammit, there are sun rays coming out on one side of the screen. It never looks proper when they shoot day-for-night.”
Studio interference was responsible for several other missteps on the series. Because they only understood the rudimentary elements of fear and terror on film, the studio insisted on having these elements shoehorned into various episodes, whether they worked for them or not. Thunder and lightning are often used in scary films; that makes them scary, right? Or at least that was the studio thinking; hence they insisted on putting thunder and lightning in various segments to “heighten” the fear, causing Mr. Seling to remark sardonically in an interview, “…the bullshit thunder coming out of the phony klieg lights (was) unsubtle…the reason for the thunder is that Mr. Wasserman, who owns Universal, gets thunder wholesale. There's a thunder dealer in Encino who supplies him with thunder very cheaply – how else can you explain why there's always thunder?” (Which, no doubt, failed to endear him further with the studio executives and Mr. Wasserman himself.)
Fortunately, many of the directors on NIGHT GALLERY did understand the subtle rudiments of Horror, how they weren't dependant on hoary “Old Dark House” clichés, and did their yeoman best to work around them. These include John Astin, John Badham, Jeannot Szwarc, and the aforementioned Mr. Corey. Still, much damage was done to the show that could have been avoided if the studio had keep their opinions to themselves.
Feeling that Horror equals “monsters”, the studio insisted on stories that featured such creatures, ironically while not providing the budget to properly create quality efforts and privately denigrating the series as a “monster show”. (Talk about schizophrenia!) The one instance where they did allow close to the proper preparation time for a good monster was the justifiably celebrated episode “Pickman's Model”; the studio gave the makeup artists six weeks to create the title creature, which was not nearly enough time for a proper casting and fitting of the appliances needed, but was far more time that would normally have been granted.
John Chambers, creator of the makeup (and Oscar winning makeup artist for PLANET OF THE APES ) did a superb job in the allotted schedule; the creature was featured in a promotional article in “TV Guide” magazine, and because the design was completed early, artist Tom Wright was able to incorporate it into the painting used to introduce the episode. Mr. Serling, Mr. Laird and the studio were delighted, and indeed a classic was presented, despite having to rush the procedure.
Besides controlling the pursestrings, the studio's interference took its tool in the type of material presented. As mentioned previously, Mr. Serling hoped to accomplish with NIGHT GALLERY the same things he'd done with THE TWILIGHT ZONE : use the templates of Horror and Dark Fantasy to comment on contemporary social issues, doing more than simply presenting “scary” stories. The studio wanted to minimize this, prefering the obvious viseral shocks, and rejected several of Mr. Serling's proposed scripts and adaptations. Because of this, NIGHT GALLERY often lacked the immediacy and relevance that so strongly anchored TWILIGHT ZONE 's efforts and became, in the words of Stephen King, “a watered-down version of THRILLER ”, the Boris Karloff-hosted series from the early 1960s.
Even worse, when Mr. Serling put his foot to the floor and tried to create genuine throat-clutching Horror, the studio and the network Standards departments would quash these effort, deeming them “too extreme” and “upsetting” to the viewers, forcing Mr. Serling and the producers to find other, less effective concepts.
(This may seem ridiculously obvious to modern viewers of THE X FILES, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, MASTERS OF HORROR and other examples of television Horror, including Mr. King's efforts, not to mention series such as HOUSE or CSI , where blood and gore often drench the screen, but viewers with a taste for Horror often tune into these programs to be upset and terrified! Yet during the 1960s and 70s, until the appearance of Mr. King's miniseries IT and THE X FILES, network standards would not allow viewers to see bloodied corpses, wounds, frightening and jarring images and themes unless the were watered down and first passed muster: many series at the time, including STAR TREK and THE OUTER LIMITS, were cautioned to “avoid disturbing sensitive viewers” – a direct quote from studio memos – with their work. This Mad Caucus Race thought process – terrify, but don't be too scary – lead Mr. King to bemoan the state of Horror on television in his nonfiction work “Danse Macabre”; I commend this to your attention for further information.
The fact that television creators were able to present images that terrified, not only on NIGHT GALLERY, KOLCHACK THE NIGHT STALKER and THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but with the TV movies DUEL, TRILOGY OF TERROR, THE NIGHT STRANGLER, and DON'T BE AFRIAD OF THE DARK, among others, is a tribute to their determination and drive.)
A few prime examples:
"Clean Kills And Other Trophies"
Mr. Serling wrote a powerful episode about familial warfare and the rites of manhood called “Clean Kills And Other Trophies”, about a millionare hunter that threatens to cut his pacifist son out of his estate unless he kills an animal by his 21st birthday. A psychological thriller with no supernatural elements, the story concludes with the son, pushed beyond endurance into madness, killing the father and nailing his head to the Trophy Room wall besides the other mounted heads. It's a disturbing and terribly powerful piece – in prose, in Mr. Serling's “Night Gallery” collection.
In the filmed version, the studios wouldn't allow the murder or the nailing, (too disturbing), so the script was rewritten to include an African butler who practiced the ancient tribal arts, and in the end the hunter's head was “magically” mounted on the wall. It was a terrible vivisection of the original that diluted the theme and conflicts inherent in the concept, of masculinity and the tensions between father and son, aggressor and pacifist, hunter and prey, making it just a weak EC-style tale of comeuppance.
In “The Different Ones”, Mr. Serling again examined conventional societal mores of beauty and the debate over euthanasia, postulating a future where the deformed are simply hospitalized for life; or mercy-killed. The studio objected to the script, forcing Mr. Serling to cut it from a thirty-minute story to fifteen, downplaying the euthanasia aspects, and making the deformity more of a “monstrous” makeup, tearing the delicate nature of the screenplay. (Ironically, when syndicated, the episode was too short to be presented in its original format, and it was padded it the attempt to make it a conventional thirty-minute piece. More on this later.)
"The Different Ones"
Little by little, because of their dissatisfaction with his efforts, Mr. Serling saw many of his scripts rewritten completely, without his input or approval. Probably the most egregious was the segment “ Midnight Never Ends”, an intriguing idea of disparate characters trapped in an out-of-the-way roadside diner coming to a chilling conclusion about their reality, similar to THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit”, also written by Mr. Serling. Story Editor Gerald Sanford was quoted as saying that he rewrote it completely, “That was all my show. I mean, he wouldn't have recognized it.” Hardly the respect due to the multi-award-winning creator.
Of course it wasn't the studio alone that interfered with Mr. Serling's vision of the series. As mentioned previously, Mr. Serling and Jack Laird didn't see eye to eye on the type of shows that should be produced. Mr. Laird shared Serling's love of the classic Horror tales, but Mr. Serling wanted the original scripts to have the social commentary found in TWILIGHT ZONE; Mr. Laird agreed with the networks and wanted the episodes to simply be stand-alone and frightening. Mr. Laird put his imprint on the show in another way as well, one that Mr. Serling disapproved of completely.
One of the most famous aspects of NIGHT GALLERY was the used of the “blackout” between longer segments. The blackouts consisted of short comic idea, mostly two or three minutes in length at most, with a macabre punchline. Some of the most famous ones include “A Question Of Chivalry” (a crowded elevator filled with businessmen stop at a floor, and a pretty young lady gets on, causing all the men to take of their hats politely. At the next floor a skull-faced spectre in a tuxedo and top hat steps on. When one gentleman nudges the spectre, indicating his hat and the young lady present, the spectre follows social conventions by taking off his head and hat together), “Phantom Of What Opera?” (the masked Phantom of the Opera kidnaps the beautiful opera singer, also wearing a mask, and takes her to his lair; during his playing of his organ, the curious woman rips off the Phantom's mask, revealing a hideous face. When the Phantom attacks the woman in rage, her mask slips off, revealing her features the same as the Phantom's, and they embrace as a couple meant for each other. Probably the most intriguing aspect of this blackout was that the Phantom was played by Leslie Nielsen, back when he was still considered a “serious” actor before his comic breakout roles in AIRPLANE! And THE NAKED GUN ), and “With Apologies To Mr. Hyde” (Adam West plays Dr. Jekyll, drinking a potion prepared by his assistant Igor, producer Laird in a cameo role. He turns into a snarling monster and gazes into a mirror, then turns towards Igor, growling, “How many times have I told you go easy on the Vermouth! ”)
"Phantom Of What Opera?"
Nobody liked the blackouts; not the studios, who didn't understand the humor inherent in them, not the directors who would usually film them in an afternoon's time, and certainly not Mr. Serling, who thought they diluted the impact of the longer pieces, providing a break in the tension between episodes that was unwelcome. “(They're) foreign and substantially incorrect. You can't sustain the mood of horror or suspense and then intersperse light laughter in the middle of it and expect to be able to go back in a neutral fashion to an element of horror. You spend fifteen minutes creating a mood for an audience, and then you dispel it arbitrarily by trying to make them laugh.” The only person who enjoyed them was producer Laird, and because he was producer, they stayed, as another example of Mr. Serling's wishes being ignored.
I make a full confession here: I enjoyed the blackouts myself. I didn't mind that they broke the tension; I thought they served the same function on the series as a Gahan Wilson or Charles Addams cartoon after a short story in “Weird Tales” or “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”; an offering of black and macabre one-panel humor. The most honest criticism that can be leveled against them, one I absolutely agree with, was that they were never as clever or funny as they were intended to be by Mr. Laird, with the possible exception of “The Merciful”, a short take on “A Cask Of Amontillado”, starring Imogene Coco in an almost non-stop five-minute monologue opposite her actual husband, actor King Donovan, who speaks one line at the end of the segment.
Still…the point is not whether the blackouts were effective or not. The issue was that Mr. Serling disliked them, but had no creative control over the series in regard to Mr. Laird or the studio. To be fair to Mr. Laird, as I mentioned previously, he was a quality producer, and was responsible for some excellent work on NIGHT GALLERY, most notably as director of the H. P. Lovecraft adaptation “Pickman's Model”. He put together a solid production company that pulled off the almost impossible every week, on a budget that was often stretched to the breaking point. For whatever quality some of NIGHT GALLERY achieved, Mr. Laird should be justifiably proud.
But the series wasn't named JACK LAIRD'S NIGHT GALLERY; it was officially titled ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY, and Mr. Serling felt (and I agree without reservation) that his say should be final on all matters. And that is probably the greatest crime that could be leveled against Mr. Laird. With his talents, he could have acted as Mr. Serling's right-hand man and assured NIGHT GALLERY of a strong hand bringing Mr. Serling's vision to fruition, as Buck Houghton had done on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. But Mr. Laird saw himself as the boss, and Mr. Serling was just another voice and opinion to be regarded or rejected as he saw fit, as another hired writer whose segments were to be rewritten, either by Mr. Laird or one of the other story editors, as another distracting element when producing a television series.
If Mr. Serling had insisted on creative control; if Mr. Laird had acquiesced to Mr. Serling, would NIGHT GALLERY have been a better show? That's impossible to say, of course; certainly it might have been a different show. It might well have resonated more with viewers, as THE TWILIGHT ZONE had. It might have produced even more episodes that would be considered modern classics of television's Dark Fantastic, alongside “They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar”, “The Messiah On Mott Street”, “The Caterpillar”, “Cool Air”, “Green Fingers”, and “Pickman's Model”.
But that didn't happen, and that's a shame.
The real damage to NIGHT GALLERY, the biggest blow to its reputation and the final coffin nail hammered to keep it from achieving the status of THE TWILIGHT ZONE occurred after cancellation, when NIGHT GALLERY was sold into syndication.
NIGHT GALLERY had a relatively short run; as mentioned above, it lasted just two-and-a-half seasons; in the vanguards of syndication this would prove problematic. There weren't really enough episodes to repeat the show back-to-back, five days per week in syndication. Most series required a minimum of five seasons to prove financially viable, the thinking being that too many repetitions of the same shows would wear away viewer interest and affect the ratings.
(Which is why THE OUTER LIMITS and THRILLER, at two seasons each, are so often difficult to find in reruns, while THE TWILIGHT ZONE, at five seasons, flourishes. The one exception is the original STAR TREK; due to it's voracious fandom, it was able to survive while only broadcasting three seasons of episodes.)
In its final season, NIGHT GALLERY was reduced to a thirty minute broadcast, with one story per episode as with THE TWILIGHT ZONE . Since those episodes were already self-contained, the studio decided to offer the entire NIGHT GALLERY package as a half-hour program. This was during a time when hour-long dramas were suffering in syndication; the independent stations were looking to fill thirty minute slots because they were easier to mix and match with situation comedies and game shows. (It wasn't until the original syndicated success of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH and other sixty minute dramas during the 1980s that hour-long television episodes were again in demand.)
As a business move, this made a great deal of sense. After all, if the hour episodes of NIGHT GALLERY were cut in half, it would provide twice as much programming. They would now have almost five seasons of material to sell. The problem, of course, was that those sixty minute episodes did not consist of many half-hour segments. Remember, NIGHT GALLERY was a true anthology, with episodes running as long as necessary for their storylines. It would be very messy trying to divide up the forty minute segments neatly, or squeezing the ten minute segments together.
The solution? Cut all the forty minute episodes down to thirty.
With several swipes of the razor, some of the most powerful and memorable episodes were disemboweled. Whole scenes were left on the editing room floor, including those from the two most celebrated episodes, “They're Tearing Down Time Riley's Bar” and “The Messiah On Mott Street ". In particular, the scene with the street Santa, brimming with some of Mr. Serling's most powerful writing, was gone, although the actor playing the Santa is still listed in the episode's credits. Motivations and characters were given a short shift, as though they simply didn't matter, and the dramatic structure of the stories was weakened.
But it didn't end there…
Finding themselves with many segments that could not be edited down neatly, the studio decided on one of the most bizarre actions ever taken for syndication: they would find additional stock footage and add it to each shortened episode to pad out their running times.
The practice was as horrible and ham-fisted as that sentence would imply. Whether the extra footage made sense or not, it was added, with the executives in charge believing that nobody would care. These were, after all, Horror fans. Their tastes couldn't be considered serious.
The damage was extensive, and for this reason above all else, NIGHT GALLERY never found its audience in syndication. Many of the stories either made little sense, or they were boring, padded beyond their length by the baffling inserting of scenes that caused confusion to those tuning in for the first time. I've no doubt that many of them watched the shows in syndication and turned them off in disgust, thinking, “This is horrible! No wonder this show was cancelled!” though in truth the syndicated segments bore little relation to the original series. Until the advent of the DVD collections, these were the only examples of NIGHT GALLERY available for viewing; the episodes could not be seen as filmed.
Listing these abominations – for that is indeed what they were – would take twice as much time as I've already allotted myself for this review, but I can't let this essay conclude without attending to the most horrendous examples:
For the episode “The Housekeeper”, a short fifteen minute black comedy, footage was inserted from the original Universal FRANKENSTEIN starring Boris Karloff, for puzzling affect; it was done underneath the scientist's explanation of his soul-transformation experiments, and I'm assuming they were to illustrate how the heroine of the segment was interpreting his character. Or something like that.
"The Flip Side Of Satan"
“The Flip Side Of Satan” was a sharp, short one-character story of a late-night DJ arriving at his new assignment: an isolated radio station. During several phone calls we learn that he's responsible for the suicide of the wife of a friend, who he spurned after beginning an affair with her. The radio station is Purgatory, and enacts a dark justice. The episode was padded to feature “dream sequences” of a woman in a flowing white gown, a horse-drawn hearse, and a funeral, all in tedious slow-motion. It also repeated dialogue while floating, deformed faces peered from the corners of the studio, apparently representing the demons judging the Lothario. None of it made much sense, and a short gut-punch of a Horror tale became a farce, losing all effectiveness.
“Logoda's Heads” was a twenty minute adaptation of an August Derleth tale by Robert Bloch, concerning a witch doctor's curse, and a expedition sent to his village to discover the whereabouts of the protagonist's missing brother, a famous explorer. To fill the remaining ten minutes, footage from a jungle adventure film was cut into the episode, supposedly demonstrating how the original expedition was lost. The film footage doesn't match the episode's in color, design or even time period involved! (Still, if you catch this episode in syndication and take the first ten minutes to get yourself a snack, you can view the story almost in its original format. Which I suppose is a plus, all things considered.)
For “The Painted Mirror”, footage of construction work is strangely cut into the episode of an antique dealer who receives a strange mirror covered in paint; when the paint is removed he discovers another world inside the glass, primitive and exotic. In the original production the owner's cat runs into the mirror, then directly runs out again, frightened. In the syndicated version we see the cat's journey go on for several long minutes, while footage from a dinosaur film plays over and over, undermining whatever surprise there originally was in the story: that there are monsters lurking in this beautiful mirror world. Oh, and the construction? There were sounds of jackhammers and roadwork laid over the dialogue of the episode to justify the inserting of the footage. But the episode concerns the antique store owner's revenge on his cold-hearted landlady who, among other things, is making his life miserable by playing her music too loud. With all the construction noise it's almost impossible to hear the music at all!
Remember “The Different Ones”? Because the episode was too short to broadcast in itself (and too slight to cut down further), the show was padded with footage from the film version of Ray Bradbury's FARENHEIT 451, showing the futuristic monorail, the surveillance car slowing roaming the city streets, and the flying policeman (a terrible effect from that film, incidentally). All the while a loudspeaker announces “The aliens have landed!” and then “Contact has been made with the aliens!” , followed by “The aliens' purpose is determined to be peaceful!” All this to obviously establish that the aliens present in the episode have landed on earth. But the plot points clearly state that there has only been radio communication with the alien species, and none has ever seen them (leading to the denouement). We're then treated (?) to several flashbacks of scenes that have previously occurred in the episode as the father supposedly agonizes over his son's condition; then we see footage from the movie SILENT RUNNING representing the son's journey to the alien world. In other words, over half the episode's running time is devoted to footage not from the original broadcast!
Perhaps the worst, the absolute worst use of the stock footage occurs in the episode “The Hand Of Borgus Weems”. The story itself, concerning a man whose hand slowly develops a mind of its own, is not terribly compelling, but it isn't too bad in its original version. But for syndication, the most astonishing collection of footage is inserted that has nothing to do with the main story. First we see scenes from the upcoming segment inserted into Mr. Serling's opening narration; these serve to pretty much destroy any suspense the episode might have generated. Then we see various scenes from the episode played out of sequence, later to be repeated in the storyline as a flashback (as it was originally filmed). Then we see images that I guess are supposed to represent the tortured dreams of the man suffering this supernatural fate; these include blood splattered onto a white surface, footage of woman on horseback riding along an ocean wearing medieval garb, and a truly astonishing moment of a man sitting on a couch and wrestling with a spider the size of a small dog. Why? Who in Heaven knows?
"The Hand Of Borgus Weems"
The episode proceeds pretty much as filmed for fifteen minutes; then, with the episode's shock climax that the curse has been passed on to another's hand, we again see the blood spatter, the women on horseback, but no spider this time, fortunately; instead we are treated to a shot from another episode of NIGHT GALLERY ("The Return Of The Sorcerer", to be specific) showing two severed hands crawling along the floor of a tomb. Watching this cacophony of weird imagery, one wonders whether to award the editor a medal for inserting as many non-sequitars as thirty minutes can allow, or light torches and demand his head on a platter…
Why was this done? For a simple reason: the studio executives thought the audience wouldn't care. “They're Horror fans; they'll watch anything as long as it's scary! It doesn't have to make sense! Giant spiders are scary! Right? Right?”
(Very heavy sigh…)
I could go on. I could mention the way that they added segments of another series, THE SIXTH SENSE, into the mix and forced Mr. Serling contractually to do introductions for those episodes in front of special paintings. I could detail how some of the directors who loved the series took it upon themselves to try and edit their own segments in an effort to at least maintain the integrity of their work. I could discuss the toll this took on Mr. Serling's health and his determination to continue working in the field that had brought him so many accolades.
But this has been a painful assessment, and I've gone on at quite a length already. So I'll stop for the time being, and conclude this examination next month. I'll touch on some of these subjects and, ending on a positive note, I'll discuss the best of NIGHT GALLERY, the segments that proved terrifying, extraordinary and fully justified Mr. Serling's faith in the series, and the prose collections that provided the best of all worlds.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A last look at the series ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY; I commend the previous segments to you in my Archives…
The final indignity for NIGHT GALLERY also occurred in syndication at the hands of Universal Studios. There had been a series in the early 1970s called THE SIXTH SENSE. (Absolutely no relation to the acclaimed M. Night Shyamalan film starring Bruce Willis.) The series starred Gary Collins as Dr. Michael Rhodes, Professor of Parapsychology, and concerned his exploits with ESP. The show often touched upon supernatural matters, and it ran approximately two seasons in 1972. (In truth it was more like one complete season; it had started as a summer replacement and was cancelled in its second season mid-run.)
The series wasn't abysmal; rather, it was simply bland, telling primarily mystery stories tinged with telepathy. The producers, in a statement guaranteed to ensure that they had little understanding of the Dark Fantastic in literature of film, conceived of the series as, in their own words, “PERRY MASON with ESP.” (Yes, take a moment to recoil from that horror.)
That the show had any quality at all I attribute to the efforts of famed author Harlan Ellison; very upset that the first attempt at portraying ESP in a series would be treated horrendously, he bullied himself into the producers' offices and read them the riot act about the lost potential of the show and the mistreatment of its subject matter. His argument was so passionate and persuasive that they hired him as a story consultant on the show. Several weeks later, he fled, literally screaming down the stairwells. It was not an auspicious moment.
Still, there were some memorable episodes; I count among the best “Witch, Witch, Burning Bright” (a young woman, descended from a convicted and burned witch, feels her psychic presence intrude into modern life), “Once Upon A Chilling” (A cryogenics experiment sees the dead man appear as a frozen specter), “Coffin, Coffin In The Sky” (A woman on a plane sees visions of a horse-drawn hearse), “With Affection, Jack The Ripper” (A pianist senses the presence of the famous murderer invading his thoughts), “Lady, Lady, Take my Life” (a group of five youths attempt to murder via ESP), “Through A Flame Darkly” (A woman senses a childhood friend to be in danger) and “Dear Joan: We're Going To Scare You To Death” (A group of experimenters with ESP try to terrify a woman to death; starring Joan Crawford). The last two are interesting in that Gary Collins only hosted those episodes ala Rod Serling; the segments played out as individualized anthology segments.
That would prove ironic, because with the demise of THE SIXTH SENSE, the studio tried to find a syndication market for the show to gain extra revenue. But the series only had 25 episodes; it was much too short to be sold, and would languish on the shelves. But an executive had a terrible idea, one of the worst to affect both this series and NIGHT GALLERY.
A different artist, not NIGHT GALLERY regular Tom Wright, was hired to create paintings to represent THE SIXTH SENSE episodes. Mr. Serling was forced contractually to return and film short introductory pieces for these episodes. Then the sixty minute episodes were chopped down to thirty minutes and incorporated into the NIGHT GALLERY syndication and everyone was happy.
Mr. Serling was livid because he was forced to accept responsibility for a project he had nothing to do with and represent it as one of his works. The creators, producers and actors for THE SIXTH SENSE were furious because the thirty minute episodes made no sense, told no coherent stories, and destroyed whatever quality work they'd done on their series. NIGHT GALLERY fans were furious because they correctly viewed THE SIXTH SENSE segments as interloping on their series of choice, and THE SIXTH SENSE fans were furious because they couldn't enjoy the unedited, unexpurged versions of their favorite show. The only ones happy were the Universal Studio accountants.
And so NIGHT GALLERY flailed in syndication, never earning the same respect as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, never proving the quality that was inherent in the series, and remaining a cheap cardboard tombstone to the dedication and efforts of Mr. Serling, Mr. Laird, and all the creatives associated with the series. (And with THE SIXTH SENSE, for that matter.) It was a travesty, and the only ones who could truly appreciate the series were those with memories of the original.
It was a sad waste. Mr. Serling passed away two years later in 1975, the stress and struggles of the series certainly not helping to alleviate the health problems that eventually took his life, and never having the chance to see how appreciated the original series actually was.
I've spent three months now talking about how NIGHT GALLERY went wrong. Let's talk about how it went right.
When it was at its best, NIGHT GALLERY did achieve what Mr. Serling envisioned: it was a ground-breaking series, presenting stories of the Dark Fantastic that touched a chord with the viewers, probing mores and issues and reflecting a dark mirror on contemporary society, often terrifyingly. The writing and directing was imaginative and startling, and the episodes were of a nature never presented before (or, sadly, since) on network television.
In short, when NIGHT GALLERY was at its best, Mr. Serling, Mr. Laird and all associated with the show could hold their heads high, presenting drama and comedy that could stand up to whatever else best that the medium had to offer.
The following is my personal list of NIGHT GALLERY's finest moments. By clicking onto each painting you can view the complete and most importantly unedited segments, presented on both Hulu and Youtube, presented as they were originally broadcast.
“Good evening, and a cordial welcome. For you aficionados of the arts, we offer you painting s that run the gamut of human experiences – and a few of the inhuman experiences. Our paintings are in oils, watercolor, acrylic, charcoal, and occasionally formaldehyde…” From one of Mr. Serling's introductions.
Herewith, the NIGHT GALLERY Hall of Fame…
NIGHT GALLERY – “The Pilot Film” - Script by Rod Serling. “The Cemetery” directed by Boris Sagal; “Eyes” directed by Steven Spielberg; “ Escape Route ” directed by Barry Shear.
The movie that began it all; demonstrating the potential of the series at its best. All the segments are wonderful, but my favorite remains the final episode for Richard Kiley's brilliant performance, Mr. Serling's dark, powerful writing and the absolute sucker-punch of an ending. (The second segment, “Eyes”, was the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg at age 22.) Sadly the film cannot be found uninterrupted, but Youtube features each segment individually in its entirety.
“They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by Don Taylor.
Nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Dramatic Episode, although neither the writing, acting or directing were nominated (which caused howls of critical outrage). William Windom is astonishing, the perfect melding of actor and role. Unanimously, this is NIGHT GALLERY at its absolute finest.
“The Messiah On Mott Street ” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by Don Taylor.
Another powerful script by Mr. Serling concerning faith, redemption and the Christmas Season. Perhaps nobody understood the elements of the Christmas ghost story as he did. This should become traditional holiday viewing.
“The Little Black Bag” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Cyril M. Kornbluth. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
One of Mr. Serling's finest adaptations, from the classic short story by Cyril Kornbluth. Featuring one of Mr. Serling's favorite actors, Burgess Meredith (who was on record as saying that, between THE TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY, Mr. Serling had written some of his best roles).
“The House” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Andre Maurois. Directed by John Astin
“Certain Shadows On The Wall” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Mary Eleanor Freeman. Directed by Jeff Corey.
Two more excellent adaptations by Mr. Serling, from short stories by Andre Maurois and Mary Eleanor Freeman, respectively. “The House” was the directing debut of John Astin (Gomez from THE ADDAMS FAMILY) and “Certain Shadows” of Jeff Corey. Both are atmospheric tales with very differing moods.
“The Doll” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Algernon Blackwood. Directed by Rudi Dorn.
An absolutely terrifying adaptation of the short story by Dark Fantasy master Algernon Blackwood. The doll itself is hideous enough, but the final image is horrific, and pure Serling; only suggested in the tale.
“Class Of ‘99” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
“The Merciful” - Script by Jack Laird. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
The first is a masterful original by Mr. Serling, one of his favorites, and an example of the kind of stories he wanted to do: thought-provoking, contemporary, commenting on social issues, and unnerving. Wonderfully directed by Jeannot Szwarc and featuring a brilliantly ominous Vincent Price in the first of his two appearances on the series.
The second is an extended blackout by Mr. Laird; it's carried by the two performers: Imogene Coco, who talks nonstop for almost the entire running time of the segment, and her real-life husband King Donovan, who only speaks one line at the end of the episode. The ending is ironic and enjoyable.
“A Fear Of Spiders” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story “The Spider” by Elizabeth M. Walter. Directed by John Astin.
“The Academy” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by David Ely. Directed by Jeff Corey.
“Marmalade Wine” - Script and directed by Jerrold Freeman, from the short story by Joan Aiken.
“Spiders" is probably one of the most famous episodes; few who first saw it have forgotten it. Well adapted by Mr. Serling from the Elizabeth M. Walter short story, it features strong performances by Patrick O'Neil and Kim Stanley.
“The Academy” is a personal favorite of both myself and Mr. Serling, and another example of the sort of stories Mr. Serling wanted to do; parables and cautionary tales of social issues. Adapted from the short story by David Ely (who wrote the wonderful novel “Seconds”, turned into an extraordinary film) and starring a very well cast Pat Boone; the last scene is chilling.
“Marmalade Wine” is a terrific example of the director's free reign on he series with its heightened and surrealistic visuals. Adapted from the short story by Joan Aiken and reuniting Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee from HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. (It's also of note that it's one of two stories adapted for the series from works of family members; her father Conrad Aiken's story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” was adapted into a classic segment below.)
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow” - Script and directed by Gene Kearney, from the short story by Conrad Aiken.
Sensitive, eerie and unforgettable, this adaptation of the Conrad Aiken story is another example of NIGHT GALLERY's finest; a portrait of madness and fantasy all the more striking for its uncompromising finale.
“Pickman's Model” - Script by Alvin Sapinsley, from the short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Directed by Jack Laird.
The stories of H. P. Lovecraft have been dramatized on film to very mixed results, but it's universally acknowledged that the NIGHT GALLERY episodes have been some of the best. Whatever else can be said about Mr. Laird's work on the series, his directing of this episode – his debut – is impeccable; the adaptation by Alvin Sapinsley is literate and faithful, and the performances by Bradford Dillman and Louise Sorel are perfect. The creature – only suggested in Lovecraft's tale – is brought to vivid life by artist Tom Wright (creator of NIGHT GALLERY's paintings) and makeup artist John Chambers, and was featured in a “TV Guide” article.
“The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Margaret St. Clair. Directed by John Badham.
One of two tales adapted from the works of Margaret St. Clair, this sensitive script by Mr. Serling presents a young child with a gift of precognition, with a chilling final denouement. This was the series debut of director John Badham, who went on to do BLUE THUNDER and WAR GAMES, and was responsible for several memorable episodes.
“A Question Of Fear” - Script by Theodore J. Flicker, from the short story by Bryan Lewis. Directed by Jack Laird.
“The Devil Is Not Mocked” - Script and directed by Gene Kearney, from the short story by Manly Wade Wellman.
Mr. Laird again shows his talents behind the camera, directing a tale of a haunted house that becomes a treatise on vengeance, with strong performances by Leslie Nielsen and Fritz Weaver and a cornucopia of visual effects. The second tale is from macabre master Manley Wade Wellman (of the wonderful Silver John stories) in a sharp take on World War II's Resistance Army, lead by a most unusual commander, with a terrific punchline. A personal favorite of mine.
“The Diary” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by William Hale.
Mr. Serling's writing is sharp and spare, and Patty Duke turns in a harsh, penetrating performance as a gossip columnist trapped in supernatural circumstances. (She's also quite pregnant, as I realized on a repeat viewing.) A dark parable of hypocrisy and inhumanity, with an absolutely stunning knockout of an ending.
“Dr. Stringfellow's Rejuvenator” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by Jerrold Freeman.
Another example of NIGHT GALLERY and Mr. Serling at their very best; a moody character piece of an Old West medicine-show charlatan that promises a grieving father his daughter's resurrection – at a price. Excellent performances lead by Forest Tucker, Mr. Serling's poetic dialogue and atmospheric direction by Jerrold Freeman meld to present an eerie work of subtle power. Everything is suggested; nothing is overt, which makes the tale so unsettling.
“Hell's Bells” - Script and directed by Theodore J. Flicker, from the short story by Harry Turner.
Perhaps the funniest and best of the comedic segments, John Astin is letter-perfect as a hippie that finds that the afterlife is tailored to the specific individual. Mr. Laird, series writer and director Gene Kearney and episode scenarist and director Theodore J. Flicker cameo as a trio of demons, and Mr. Flicker takes on the role of the Devil in the final minutes.
“The Dark Boy” - Script by Halstead Welles, from the short story by August Derleth. Directed by John Astin.
A subtle, moving, dreamlike piece ably directed by John Astin from the August Derelith short story, concerning a school teacher at the turn of the century and the ghost of a small boy that haunts her classroom.
“Cool Air” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by H. P. Lovecraft. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
“Camera Obscura” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by Basil Cooper. Directed by John Badham.
The second work adapted from Lovecraft's oeuvre, this time adapted by Mr. Serling, concerning a man who can't stand warm temperatures, directed by Jeannot Szwarc; a classic of mounting terror.
Mr. Serling also adapted the short tale from Basil Cooper concerning a greedy moneylender's confrontation with an eccentric inventor and a diabolical device. Featuring strong performances by Ross Martin and Rene Auberjonois and bravura direction by John Badham, it ably demonstrates the imaginative heights NIGHT GALLERY could achieve.
“Green Fingers” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story by R. C. Cook. Directed by John Badham.
“The Funeral” - Script by Richard Matheson, from his short story. Directed by John Meredith Lucas.
Another classic episode that is remembered by most ardent fans of the series, Mr. Serling's adaptation of the R. C. Cook story again showcases Mr. Badham's direction and the acting of Elsa Lanchester and Cameron Mitchell, building from disquieting strangeness to out-and-out ghastliness.
Richard Matheson worked with Mr. Serling on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but only scripted two NIGHT GALLERYs. This episode, adapted from his own short story, is a comic romp lead flawlessly by Joe Flynn as a funeral director trying to satisfy his customer's unique request. A complete vaudeville delight from start to finish, and another personal favorite.
“The Late Mr. Peddington” - Script by Jack Laird, from the short story “The Flat Male” by Frank Sisk. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Adapted by Mr. Laird from the short story by Frank Sisk, this vignette about a woman shopping for a low-cost funeral is a two character tour-de-force for Kim Hunter and Harry Morgan, with a truly shocking final moment.
“The Waiting Room” - Script by Rod Serling. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Another dark Western piece in a one set morality play, featuring a roster of splendid Western characters actors. Although the climax is similar to other episodes, the strengths of this story is the performances (by Steve Forrest, Albert Salmi, Gilbert Roland and Buddy Ebsen, most of whom appeared on THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Mr. Serling's poetic dialogue, and the grim theme of man's relationship to guns and violence, as timely today as when first presented.
“The Sins Of The Fathers” - Script by Halstead Welles, from the short story by Christianna Brand. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
Atmospheric and extremely well-acted, the story concerns the Welsh custom of sin-eating; cleansing the dead soul of his early discretions by symbolically feasting in front of the corpse during the wake. With strong performances by Richard Thomas, Michael Dunn, Geraldine Page and genre icon Barbara Steele, this is a truly dark and unsettling piece.
“The Caterpillar” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story “Boomerang” by Oscar Cook. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
As much as he loved subtlety, when Mr. Serling wanted to terrify full-throttle, he was a master. No less an authority than Stephen King has noted that many, including myself, consider this one of the most horrifying and frightening films ever produced for television. All I will mention is that it concerns a man who's unusual plan for murder goes very, very wrong. You'll never forget it.
When NIGHT GALLERY returned for its third and final season, it was reduced to thirty minutes and abandoned the anthology format, featuring one story per episode ala THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Although not as groundbreaking as it's previous season, there were still some effective episodes.
“The Return Of The Sorcerer” - Script by Halstead Welles, from the short story by Clark Ashton Smith. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.
The premiere episode features terrific performances by Vincent Price and Bill Bixby, imaginative direction by Jeannot Szwarc, and some startling and surreal moments. Nothing more than a great, gothic spookshow, but superbly done.
“The Girl With Hungry Eyes” - Script by Robert M. Young, from the short story by Fritz Leiber. Directed by John Badham.
An adaptation of Fritz Leiber's classic tale, the author was very pleased with the final results, remarking in several interviews that he thought the episode improved on the short story with an inspired finale. It features James Farentino as a photographer caught up in a terrible mystery, and the stunningly beautiful Joanna Petit (previously so wonderful in “The House”) as a woman with a dark, hypnotic secret.
“She'll Be Company For You” - Script by David Rayfiel, from the short story by Andrea Newman. Directed by Gerald Perry Finnerman.
Leonard Nimoy (who also worked behind the camera in the third season, directing the segment “Death On A Barge”) is a man who believes himself freed after the death of his long-lingering invalid wife, but a mysterious cat begins to stalk his life in ever-threatening circumstances. A fine example of tension slowly ratcheting up, thanks to the directing of Gerald Finnerman (who directed in him several of the most memorable STAR TREK episodes).
“Something In The Woodwork” - Script by Rod Serling, from the short story “Housebound” by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Directed by Edward M. Abroms.
This episode is probably Mr. Serling's best writing for the third season, an eerie examination of the relationship between a vindictive, drunken wife and the specter that literally exists in the walls of her attic. It builds to a surprising, grim conclusion.
And for those interested in the blackout segments, my vote for the three best are “Phantom Of What Opera”, “An Act Of Chivalry”, and “Room For One Less”. You can find them sprinkled throughout the episodes listed on Hulu; I'll let you search them out yourselves.
And if you're interested in other worthy episodes, you can do no better than these, featuring episodes that, while flawed and not reflecting the quality of the best moments from the series, are certainly worthwhile and effective examples of the Dark Fantastic as has been presented on network television. “The Dead Man”, “I'll Never Leave You – Ever”, “The Ghost Of Sorworth Place”, “Pamela's Voice”, “Little Girl Lost”, “Brenda”, “The Flip Side Of Satan”, “The Tune In Dan's Café”, “You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore”, “Big Surprise”, “Professor Peabody's Last Lecture”, “The Miracle At Camafeo”, “Rare Objects”, “Fright Night”, “Deliveries In The Rear”, and “Whisper”. Watch and enjoy.
To conclude our analysis, let me recommend that perhaps the best way to enjoy NIGHT GALLERY isn't by watching it at all.
After the series was on the air, Mr. Serling was contracted by Bantam Books to adapt his favorite NIGHT GALLERY scripts into short stories, as he did with his efforts on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The result was two volumes, “Night Gallery” and “Night Gallery 2”.
Although he was not known for his prose, these collections represent some of Mr. Serling's finest writing. Free of budgetary constraints or studio interference, here he was free to present his vision of the series without compromise. Thos episodes that were interfered with, censored or weakly or ineptly produced – “Lone Survivor”, “Lindeman's Catch”, “Make Me Laugh”, “Clean Kills And Other Trophies”, “Rare Objects”, and “The Different Ones” – are as powerful, poignant, eerie or out-and-out-terrifying as his skills could bring to bear, and his best efforts – “They're Tearing Down Time Riley's Bar” and “The Messiah On Mott Street”, are simply wonderful.
In addition, the volumes contain two original works, not filmed for the show. The first features “Does The Name Grimsby Mean Anything To You?”, and the second volume contains “Suggestion”. The first was scripted for the series but rejected either by Mr. Laird or the network; it's a character examination of an astronaut, obsessively pushed to be the first and best at all his endeavors, who finds a dark connection to an obscure Civil War-era scientist. The second story was filmed during the third season as “Finnegan's Flight”; it was effectively done, but the prose version is a rethinking of the concept. In exploring Harvey Hemple, one of Mr. Serling's common men, and his hideous experience with hypnotism at a company Christmas party, Mr. Serling has created a small masterpiece of Horror that I feel may be his very best short story.
This is what Mr. Serling wanted for the series; the pity is that he couldn't always achieve it, but the wonder is that he came very, very close.
For those curious about some of the adapted stories for the series, Carol Serling, Mr. Serling's widow, along with Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg, put together a collection titled “Rod Serling's Night Gallery Reader”, featuring 18 short stories adapted for the series, including “The Little Black Bag”, “The Academy”, “The Girl With The Hungry Eyes”, “The Dead Man”, and Mr. Serling's own novella “Escape Route”. You can get further information on all three books by clicking on the respective images below.
For more information on behind the scenes of the series, may I recommend “Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson. It contains the history of the series, interviews with actors, writers and other creative personnel, and synopsis and critical analysis of all the episodes. You can find out more by clicking on the image below.
One final note:
When the creators of the 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE revival decided to redo Mr. Serling's classic series, then followed NIGHT GALLERY's example: each hour episode was composed of multiple segments, all at various lengths depending on their dramatic needs. Unlike NIGHT GALLERY, the producers tried very hard not to compromise their finished efforts with the network or studio, and the result was an extraordinary series that not only served as a tribute to Mr. Serling's work, but carved out its own niche.
When the series was sold into syndication, they faced the same dilemma that NIGHT GALLERY suffered. The studio decided to syndicate the show in thirty minute episodes. They chopped down the longer pieces to fit into the new timeslot, but thankfully didn't add additional irrelevant footage to the shorter pieces. Rather, they chopped them down as well to conform to fifteen minute pieces.
At no point was there any discussion about not syndicating the show, or simply syndicating it as it was originally produced. Once again the bookkeepers had their way.
Because in the continued war between Art and Commerce, where the bottom line is drawn by the accountants and studio personnel, Art doesn't stand the chance of a snowball in a microwave oven.
This has been a true story.
I want to thank the following individuals and periodicals, without which this essay would not have been possible: Kathryn M. Drennan and J. Michael Straczynski for their history of the series in “Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine”; Stephen King and his non-fiction opus “Danse Macabre”, Gary Gerani with Paul H. Schulman and their chapter in their book “Fantastic Television”, and “Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour” by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, and their NIGHT GALLERY website http://nightgallery.net/ .