And now it is time for history.
Night Gallery was the legendary Rod Serling's return to the anthology TV format, and a fairly strange and strained return it was; each hour-long segment had at least two (and often more) short-form stories. The length of these was never set, but a philosophy of "We'll take as long as it takes to tell the story" seemed to prevail. When the series finally went into syndication, this presented problems, as segments that ran less than fifteen minutes were padded out to fill a half-hour slot with horrendous results.
Too, there were disagreements between Serling and the series producer, Jack Laird, over the focus and thrust of the program. Serling often complained of being "frozen out" of the producers meetings, although his name appeared in the show's title (officially Rod Serling's Night Gallery) and he wrote nearly a third of the show's material.
This set gathers together the entire first season - a mere six episodes (more on that later) - and the pilot film. The pilot consists of three stories, all written by Serling, and starting the series off on a very high note. The middle story, Eyes, is especially notable as the last quality project for Joan Crawford, and the first professional credit for some young turk named Steven Spielberg. The season itself can also claim several bright moments including the shuddery The Doll and the Emmy-nominated They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar.
This is a very nice transfer, with a wonderfully sharp image (though rather grainy, thanks to the film stocks of the 70s), strong flesh tones and solid blacks. The film elements are in good shape, but dust speckling is a constant problem. The 70s were the dark ages for TV audio, too, so don't expect anything special. The slipcase and gatefold packaging are handsomely designed, though the cover appears to be adorned by a Twilight Zone-era Serling. More obviously, the listing of the episodes are glaringly slipshod - the order of stories within each episode are rarely correct, and at least one is flat out wrong.
As a public service - and in case you're interested in what is actually included in this box set (as most online sources don't bother with a listing)- here is the real order.
DISC ONE - Pilot: The Cemetery, Eyes, Escape Route.
DISC TWO - Episode Three: The House, Certain Shadows on the Wall.
DISC THREE - Episode Six: They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar, The Last Laurel.
These - and very brief synopses - can only be accessed by actually putting the discs in your player and navigating the menus.
The first thing that you're going to notice is that there are no extras - well, actually there are the "bonus episodes" mentioned above, but again, let's wait a moment for those while we dwell on the other thing you'll notice: six episodes was a network season in 1970?
The answer is that in this particular occasion, yes it was. Night Gallery was part of an NBC offering called Four-In-One, in which four series rotated into the timeslot throughout the season (the other series were San Francisco International Airport, McCloud, which later moved into The NBC Mystery Movie, and something called The Psychiatrist). Night Gallery got its own timeslot and a regular, fondly remembered 22 episode season the next year, then a lackluster third season where it was pared down to a single half-hour story a week.
Why do I bring up this trivia? I didn't rely on my own rapidly failing memory to expound on these facts; I had to research them on our pal The Internet. Given the fractious - and therefore interesting - history of the series, even a few text pages relating to this would have been a nice perk for fans who remember the original run or who only recently discovered it in re-runs on The Mystery Channel. Though Night Gallery is nearly 35 years old, there are plenty of personnel still alive today who might have been interviewed about it - but the absence of this, or any other such material, is only pointed up by the now standard disclaimer that "any views or opinions expressed in interviews or commentary" blah blah blah. There is a pack-in booklet, but one is disappointed to find it is merely a generic sales pamphlet for other Universal box sets.
Instead of any background materials, what the consumer gets is one hour-long episode from the second season and two of the half-hour eps, which seem chosen on the basis of featured actors, in this case such perennials as Patty Duke, Cesar Romero, John Carradine, Vincent Price and Sally Field. While these are certainly nice to have, and round out a third disc, their inclusion doesn't exactly fill one with optimism about a follow-up second season box set.
Past such problematic packaging, it was wonderful to once again see these episodes, to enjoy a series that would almost certainly not be produced in these reality-show happy times - at least, not with this caliber of established talent. Most of all, it served to remind me how much I miss Serling's writing - perhaps people don't really talk like that, but they should.
Dr. Freex, 8/31/2004