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Not Your Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Night Gallery

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Rod Serling introduces stories about the bizarre and the fantastic. Is this a "Welcome to The Twilight Zone moment?" No, we're not in the nebulous Twilight Zone. We've walked through the doors of the Night Gallery.

MeTV continues to carry The Twilight Zone, and the classic series continues to reach new fans while providing old ones a chance to relive top TV sci-fi/fantasy moments. Some of those "old" fans discovered The Twilight Zone less than ten years ago. The Twilight Zone never leaves the airwaves.

Unfortunately, Night Gallery doesn't receive the appropriate "piggybacking" it deserves. Anyone appreciating The Twilight Zone should give Night Gallery a chance, even though the latter show is much different tonally from the former.

"Different" doesn't mean "inferior." Night Gallery had a separate identity from The Twilight Zone, one that worked for its time.

More Horror, Less Whimsy

Night Gallery is horror, not sci-fi/fantasy. Yes, there are sci-fi stories in the series, but they have a "horror edge." Night Gallery featured crime stories, drifting a bit into Alfred Hitchcock Presents territory. Again, that's not a bad thing. Anyone interested in a Twilight Zone reboot might feel disappointed, but Night Gallery never intended to redo The Twilight Zone.

The infamous 1969 pilot movie trilogy features some adult-themed stories, including the dark and cruel story "Eyes." Directed by a 22-year-old Steven Spielberg, the story features a blind Joan Crawford blackmailing a doctor into performing a surgery capable of restoring her sight for 12 hours.

The operation requires a donor, and pitiful Tom Bosley gives up his eyes to pay off gambling debts. Bosley's character needs the money to avoid paying the debt with his life, and, in a painfully sad moment, he tells the doctors the irony of it all - he'll only last a month before he takes his own life. The character muses that his addiction to gambling brought him down, and the doctors hate what they have to do, but Crawford's extortion plans give them no choice.

The other two stories in the trilogy, "Cemetary" and "The Escape Route," wallow in compelling horror/drama that combines supernatural elements with authentic human beings acting inhumanely.

As the 1960's closed and the equal parts cynical and over-the-top whimsical 1970s rolled in, downbeat entertainment seemed in vogue. The Night Gallery pilot had cynicism in heaping quantities. The program was no Twilight Zone, although the series, like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, escaped scrutiny from the censors.

Serling's Lament

Rod Serling did not have creative control with Night Gallery, as he did with The Twilight Zone. The brilliant writer-producer found himself frustrated during the three-year run of the series that followed the pilot movie. Night Gallery lasted three seasons but only air 43 one-hour episodes. The series did enjoy a lengthy syndicated run in the 1970s and 1980s, but the episodes were, well, a mess.

Night Gallery originally aired as a one-hour program featuring two stories of varying time duration. Purely commercial reasons led to syndicating the series as a half-hour program. Longer stories saw cuts, while shorter ones saw cut or unrelated footage edited into the running time. The half-hour format didn't work too well. Things were off.

That's not to say Night Gallery failed in syndication. Again, it ran for years. Likely, the show would have become far more successful if executives gave Serling a free hand.

Night Gallery is available uncut on DVD. Cable TV gives it a new home now, as the excellent Comet TV airs episodes.

Comments

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on February 10, 2021:

I loved Night Gallery as a kid, but it couldn't hold a candle to The Twilight Zone. All in all, Serling was a genius at his medium.

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