Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Night Gallery - Serling!

Rod Serling is without a doubt one of the most important figures in early television, especially in the presentation of science fiction and fantasy. The Twilight Zone remains the gold standard of storytelling in this genre after six decades. Everything that comes along in that vein always looks like a variation on The Twilight Zone. And that's true for Night Gallery as well. Night Gallery was of course Serling's very early 70's attempt to get back onto television with the kind of smart and thoughtful yarns that had made The Twilight Zone iconic. That Night Gallery falls short is not Serling's fault, for the show was done on a less than a shoestring budget. 

Whereas The Twilight Zone offered one story a week, ideally a half hour, Night Gallery was saddled with having to offer up to as many as four different takes in any given hour. Usually there were two major stories and then perhaps a couple of gags. These were brief, often unfunny and they were loathed by Serling who was not in full command of this show as he had been before. Jack Laird was the producer and he had a different sense than the art than Serling, more keyed to dark humor. 

The other big deficit that Night Gallery faced was color. There was no way that in 1970 a network was going to allow a show to hit the primetime in black and white. But that's exactly what a show like Night Gallery needed. And to make matters worse, often the shooting schedules were so short and the budgets so tight that adding atmosphere was a luxury which was often dispensed with. Night Gallery was all about atmosphere at it best and this was deemed too expensive early on. 

On the plus side Night Gallery did adapt a number of  tales of Weird Tales C'Thulhu mavens such as H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, and Robert Bloch. Even if the adaptations are not everything one would imagine, Lovecraft in particular is difficult to film in the best of circumstances, the very fact the adaptations of "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model" exist is a virtue not to be overlooked. Perhaps my favorite episode is "Brenda" adapted from a short story by Margaret St. Clair. Few of the Night Gallery show make you ache, but this one does. 

So I'm very pleased that I at long last got the chance to watch the Night Gallery episode all the way through. There's some dross for sure, but hidden in more episodes than not there are some gems. Even if Rod Serling was not always convinced of that fact. 

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