Night Gallery (1969–1973 USA)

night-gallery-season-2-billboard-rod-serling-600x300After “Twilight Zone” was canceled Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery” appeared some years later. It was hosted by Rod Serling himself, a bit older than he looked when he hosted “Twilight Zone” as he walked us through an art gallery replete with strange, demonic, often very intimidating artwork. Each work of art told a story which was the focus of each half-hour episode. The series did very well and it was a more intense follow-up to “Twilight Zone”, which suffered from a rather static and preachy talkiness and far more censorship. Because it was the early 70’s, the episodes of Night Gallery were a tad more uncensored and graphic.

It was on late night on television so that younger viewers would not be exposed to it. Various directors worked on the series, some of them actors like Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Corey, both of whom starred in the series. Overall, a who’s who of that era’s film actors guest starred during the run of the series. They included Vincent Price, Al Lewis, John Astin, Cloris Leachman, Joanna Pettet, Elsa Lanchester, Bill Bixby, Burgess Meredith, Diane Keaton, Cesar Romero, David Carradine, David McCallum, Roddy McDowall, Tom Bosley, Leslie Nielsen, Bob Crane, Zsa Zsa Gabor and so on and so on…Clearly, this series enticed a number of celebrities at the time who probably enjoyed watching this scary series themselves.

While Night Gallery’s frightening aspects are considerably tame and even cheap by today’s digital age, it can be haunting and scary in its own light. Rather than focusing on graphic violence, blood and gore, Night Gallery’s stories were very well-written, chilling both psychologically and emotionally and often coming off like the sort of thing that Stephen King was possibly inspired by. But it is clearly a series modeled after Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Rod Sterling himself called himself a lesser, thinner Hitchcock. Despite Serling being the on screen host and face of the series it was producer Jack Laird, brought on board for the first season, who was the de facto boss. All script and editorial decisions were his.

Serling had decided to take a smaller role in the day to day affairs of the show, assuming that as creator and host, he would be consulted on scripts, and other decisions. He was in for a rude awakening. Beginning in the second, and best season, Night Gallery really got it’s legs. The best of the series, in my opinion, are to be found here. Along with adaptations of great short fiction stories, such as “Cool Air”, “Camera Obscura”, “The Caterpillar”, “Silent Snow Secret Snow”, “Pickman’s Model”, and many others, were excellent Serling originals, such as “Deliveries in the Rear”, and “Class of ’99”. One of the reasons is the great work of director Jeannot Szwarc, and cinematographer Lionel Lindon. But strain was appearing between Serling and producer Laird, over the inclusion of short, comic viginettes, intended to round out the hour. These were the most controversial aspect of this wonderful tv series, although I do love John Astin’s over the top performance as a middle aged hippie in “Hells Bells.” 🙂

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