Friends, it was 50 years ago tonight that the pilot for Night Gallery originally aired on NBC – introducing horror aficionados to a new offering from the iconic Rod Serling. A weekly visit to a gallery of the macabre that focused almost solely on horror where Serling’s earlier classic TV anthology, The Twilight Zone, focused on an equal mix of science fiction and supernatural elements. As always it was great to have Rod Serling as our tour guide to this new Night Gallery series – even if in the long run he didn’t find this new series as satisfying as The Twilight Zone due to creative control. Having said that there were a good number of memorable segments – as most episodes involved two main segments that made up the majority of an episode with generally a short ‘humorous’ vignette. Throughout it’s three season run, the Night Gallery had an embarrassment of riches in regards to the actors and actresses that were featured – some in more than one segment. You had the likes of Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Roddy McDowall, Barry Sullivan, William Windom, Sandra Dee, Leslie Nielsen, Lindsay Wagner, Patty Duke, Leonard Nimoy, and so many more. But those three seasons began with this very special NBC World Premiere Movie event – back on November 8th of 1969 and as you can see from this vintage promo… what a way to kick off the Night Gallery!
For what little it might be worth, on the Saturday Fright podcast we have cherry-picked a few Night Gallery segments as subjects for episodes. In my honest opinion, one of the greatest offerings was They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar – which originally aired on January 20th of 1971. It featured an incredibly moving performance by William Windom (Star Trek, To Kill a Mockingbird) as Randy Lane – a Sales Director for Pitkin Plastics – who on the day of his 25th anniversary with the company… is having a very bad day. Rod Serling was well known for writing incredibly emotional and truthful stories in the trappings of the supernatural – but there is an honesty in They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar that never fails to make me tear up. Having said that, Serling also frequently used The Twilight Zone to better the main character and while Night Gallery was generally darker… this one will have you smiling happily by the end. That is naturally why the Projectionist and myself chose it for an episode of the Saturday Frights podcast back on January 18th of 2015.
Of course since this is the 50th anniversary of Night Gallery how could I not share the episode where we tackled the first story of that TV pilot? I am talking about the exceptional The Cemetery – which was written by Serling and stars both Roddy McDowall as well as Ossie Davis in addition to Barry Atwater. This tale of a wealthy uncle being murdered by his ungrateful and conniving Nephew – played of course by Roddy McDowall – is the Night Gallery story I remember the most. Which is why it was one of the earlier episodes of the podcast that the Projectionist and I tackled – and one of the most requested.
50 years is a long time for something to remain in the pop culture zeitgeist especially since I feel that the Night Gallery gets a few knocks as it doesn’t quite live up to The Twilight Zone. But as I’ve already mentioned – there are some incredibly fantastic tales of terror from the series – some quite terrifying like The Caterpillar. I have a feeling that Rod Serling’s the Night Gallery is going to continue to impress new generations of viewers and that it will be a good while before the gallery closes it’s doors to the public.
Now then to end this article, how about checking out this sales reel for the Night Gallery television series?