“Night Gallery” has, since the day it debuted as an irregularly recurring series on NBC in 1970, gotten a bad rap. During its three-year run, critics – and many viewers – alike judged it as Rod Serling’s unworthy follow-up to his ground-breaking anthology series “The Twilight Zone.”
And to be fair there aren’t many episodes of “Night Gallery” that have reached the iconic status of many episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” I recently watched “TZ’s” classic 1960 episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and found its compact tale of paranoia and mob mentality still compelling, especially in these times.
But I’ve always loved “Night Gallery,” probably in part because it aired during my formative TV-watching years. I was devouring any kind of genre material in those days – movies, TV, comic books, novels, short stories – and “Night Gallery” fit a couple of those categories.
The show, hosted by Serling, just like “Twilight Zone,” and frequently featuring episodes he wrote, was as satisfying, to my young eyes, a presentation of the weird and the spooky as anything airing back in the day.
The pilot episode, which aired in 1969, was directed by Steven Spielberg and featured Joan Crawford, for goodness’ sake.
And how can we not love Serling? The gifted writer passed on in 1975, just two years after “Night Gallery” ended. He wasn’t much satisfied with the show by the end but that’s probably understandable. Serling’s talents no doubt made him less an artist and more a commodity to TV executives.
I’ve watched a couple of classic episodes recently on Hulu and thoroughly enjoyed them.
“They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” from 1971, was written by Serling and comes across as more of a “Mad Men” story of corporate desperation than a spook story with William Windom as a business executive who’s been left behind in the rat race and longs for a past that lives on only in a shuttered neighborhood bar.
And bonus: Bert Convy plays Windom’s smarmy, conniving underling/usurper.
Much more straightforward, slow-burn horror could be found in “Pickman’s Model,” an episode I remembered quite well. Bradford Dillman played a turn-of-the-century artist who literally “paints what he sees.” The problem? He’s painting horrifying scenes of a monstrous ghoul that climbs out of the sewers and snatches people off the streets in a bad part of town.
From Larry Hagman to Leslie Nielsen to Victor Buono to Vincent Price, “Night Gallery” had an amazing rotating cast.
And presiding over it all was Serling, looking more dated in his shaggy haircut and mod jackets than he had as the buttoned-down host of “Twilight Zone,” but a welcome presence to be sure.
Check out Hulu’s collection of “Night Gallery” episodes. They’re also airing on MeTV, a nostalgia channel. “Night Gallery” was an immensely enjoyable follow-up to “The Twilight Zone” and, for me anyway, a fond send-off for Serling.