Many of my friends and colleagues have championed the practice of binge viewing serial cable programming for years, watching episodes in rapid succession once they are all available on a streaming platform or other membership-oriented resource. While my wife and I had done some of this prior to becoming parents, it has been a long time since we really got into a series and viewed it in this way. Now that my winter break has arrived and my family are all busy with their own pursuits, one series I have chosen to revisit is Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery”.

Serling had been a notably successful writer and director for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and its thought-provoking weekly program, “The Twilight Zone”. Serling’s science fiction-themed show features episodes that alternated between suspense and social commentary while managing to deliver unforeseen plot twists. He was concerned with themes of equal opportunity among humans and he was also against the Vietnam War, having himself served in World War II.

Even so, Serling’s “Night Gallery” made a bigger impact on me with its more horror oriented storylines and its color episodes featuring big name stars and somewhat lavish sets. The stories usually tell of flawed individuals making an effort to improve their circumstances, often with some less-than-savory results. These morality plays appealed to me as a youngster, and they still do 40 years later.

My exposure to “Night Gallery” was because of Friday night programming on WTCG Atlanta, later to become WTBS Atlanta. The cable channel would often present an episode of the program before or after a classic horror movie. In the “Night Gallery” omnibus format, the point is quickly made, the conflict and resolution are presented in such a way as to keep the viewer engaged. The concepts presented on the show were direct for me, and they left an impression on my thinking.

The collected episodes of “Night Gallery” are now available in one DVD set these days, and the show’s pilot film, written entirely by Serling set the bar high for the episodes to come thereafter. It was originally aired on Nov. 8, 1969, a little over two weeks following my birth.

The pilot’s segments include Roddy McDowell and Ossie Davis in “The Cemetary,” Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, and Tom Bosley are featured in “Eyes,” and Richard Kiley, Sam Jaffe, and Norma Crane are in “The Escape Route.” “Eyes” is distinctive as it marks the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg.

“The Cemetary” is the story of a distant heir returning to an ailing relative and murdering him to inherit his estate. The supernatural aspect of the story is twisted twice over as Davis drives McDowell, the murdering heir, crazy only to be surprised by the story’s twist ending.

“Eyes” is the story of the wealthy, blind Crawford who is interested in having a surgical procedure to gain vision for the first time in her life. She has found Bosley, a gambling addict, in need of $9,000 to pay off his bookee. He agrees to give up his sight to her for the money, after she blackmails her doctor to go through with the procedure. He points out to her that the operation will only work for eleven hours, and though successful, the operation yields unexpected outcomes for Crawford.

“The Escape Route” features Kiley as a World War II Nazi who is in hiding and has yet to be brought to justice for his war crimes. Finding solitude in a museum, he is recognized by Jaffe from the War. After murdering Jaffe, Kiley finds the museum to be less than a safe haven after all.

“Night Gallery” would be picked up by by National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) for three seasons total, but Serling exercised less creative control in the latter episodes. Even so, I remain intrigued by the messaging, the production, and the acting found in these episodes. I expect that some episodes will be familiar and others will be new to me, but over the coming week, I plan to watch as many as time will allow.

Alex McGill is an educator and musician living in Haralson County.

Alex McGill is an educator and musician living in Haralson County. 

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