Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Night Gallery (1970 - 1973) * * *

When CBS cancelled Rod Serling's series THE TWILIGHT ZONE in 1964, Serling created a similar concept in NIGHT GALLERY as a new forum for his brand of storytelling, a diverse collection of horror, fantasy and sci-fi tales. From 1970 to 1973 he hosted the series from an art gallery on NBC. Serling and others wrote some of the stories, but also adapted classics from H. P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Fritz Leiber, and A. E. van Vogt. NIGHT GALLERY was originally titled "Wax Museum", but the name was changed before the first episode was broadcast.

Rod Serling: "Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collectors' item in its own way--not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, and suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare."

The NIGHT GALLERY two-hour pilot film was first telecast on November 8, 1969 as a TV movie. Rod Serling hosts three macabre short stories, introducing each with a framed portrait in a dark art gallery. It features the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg and one of the last acting performances by Joan Crawford. The first story stars Roddy McDowall as a covetous nephew who murders his uncle, suffering the consequence of being possessed by a family painting. The second story stars Joan Crawford as a blind millionairess who purchases the eyes of down-and-out Tom Bosley in order to enjoy 12 precious hours of sight. The final tale involves a Nazi war criminal (Richard Kiley), who attempts to evade his pursuers by escaping into a painting in a museum.

On December 16, 1970, the first episode "The Dead Man" was broadcast on NBC. Serling in an art gallery introduces the mostly macabre tales that make up each episode by unveiling paintings by artist Tom Wright depicting the stories. Equally horrific sculptures in the gallery were done by Logan Elston and Phil Vanderlei. 43 color episodes were produced: 98 story segments, including 3 in the pilot episode and 2 that were added for the syndication run. Many famous actors appear in the episodes. As the series progressed, Serling suffered from too much network and studio interference. He had less input, control of content and tone than he did on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. There was a communication problem with production, and Serling often didn't know what was going on. By the final season, stung by criticism and ignored by the show’s executives, Serling all but disowned the series.

NIGHT GALLERY was criticized for its use of comedic blackout sketches between the longer story segments in some episodes, and for its splintered, multiple-story format, which contributed to its uneven tone. Despite these distractions, Serling produced many distinguished teleplays. It was nominated for an Emmy Award for its first-season episode "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar" as the Outstanding Single Program on U.S. television in 1971. In 1972, the series received another nomination (Outstanding Achievement in Makeup) for the second season episode "Pickman’s Model". To increase the number of episodes available for syndication, the 60-minute episodes were re-edited into a 30-minute format, with many segments either severely cut or extended using newly shot scenes and stock footage. Also, episodes of the short-lived 1972 supernatural series "The Sixth Sense" were incorporated into the syndicated version of the series with Serling providing newly filmed introductions. There were two episodes that were produced but were not broadcast: "Die Now, Pay Later" and "Room for One Less". The final episode "How To Cure The Common Vampire" was broadcast May 27, 1973.

Whereas the tales in THE TWILIGHT ZONE are primarily science fiction, NIGHT GALLERY stories have a dark, sinister, morbid, supernatural, and horrific edge. However, both shows are intelligent, and many episodes in each series would fit comfortably in either series. For example, "The Different Ones" from the "Night Gallery" is about a hideously disfigured young man who is sent to a distant planet, where he discovers the inhabitants look just like him. The main thing that is the same for both series is the moralistic sense of justice. Call it Karma or Nemesis, but the characters always reap what they sow.

The first two seasons of NIGHT GALLERY are now available on DVD. The remastering quality is excellent. It is so clear that you can even see the uppper lip hair on Patty Duke in the second season entry "The Diary". There are no DVD extras. In 2004, Universal released the Region 1 DVD collection, including the pilot film and the six episodes of the first season, plus bonus episodes from seasons two and three as extras. On October 16, 2006, the first season, including the pilot film and 2 bonus episodes, one from season 2 and one from season 3, was released on Region 2 DVD. In November of 2008 Universal released the complete season two DVD collection. They announced that one story segment from season two, "Witches' Feast", would not be included due to the fact that Universal was unable to locate portions of the 40 year-old episode. When and if Universal releases the third season of NIGHT GALLERY on DVD the studio expects to release "Witches Feast" as part of that set.

Scott Skelton wrote, "We've been tracking this release pretty closely and are privy to as much information as we can squeeze out of Universal Studios. We're grateful the series has been tapped for a DVD release, and the set has been struck from original, uncut prints--the same ones Columbia House used for its mail-order volumes--and not the butchered half-hour syndication version that played on the SciFi Channel for years. We also fail to see why a series which featured the involvement of both Rod Serling and Steven Spielberg did not rate a budget that allowed special features. If Warner Brothers can load extras into DVD releases of such non-classics as "Wonder Woman" and "The Dukes of Hazzard", then Universal is out of touch with current standards in the DVD business when they fail to properly document their own classic TV shows." Scott Skelton and Jim Benson wrote "Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour". It's a great book with rave reviews, possibly superior to Marc Scott Zicree's excellent "The Twilight Zone Companion".

Which series is better? They are both great. NIGHT GALLERY appeals to horror fans, is under-rated and was not as successful as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which is basically science fiction. Sci-fi is more popular and respectable than horror, much of which is a sub-genre of sci-fi. NIGHT GALLERY is in color, but otherwise both series are equal, featuring excellent writing, acting, direction, and intelligence.

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