Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Night Gallery…
Rodman Edward Serling (“Rod”) was a writer, television producer and narrator, best known for taking us on a weekly journey to the wonderfully bizarre, sometimes dark (but always brilliant) place, called the Twilight Zone. It was a television show unlike most others of its time; censorship reigned throughout TV land, yet we find social commentary and moral criticism heavily woven into the science fiction and fantasy fabric of the Twilight Zone. A strong foundation of incredible stories (many of them written or adapted by Serling) and solid acting (from numerous soon-to-be-famous actors) combined to build a thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining series. Among the 156 episodes, those not to be missed: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (crazy passenger William Shatner has an awful flight), Living Doll (Telly Savalas is a bad dad who hates his step-daughter’s new toy),It’s A Good Life (everyone must think good thoughts, ‘cause little Billy Mumy will be very upset if you don’t), The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (Claude Akins and his suburban neighbors are whipped into a frenzy of paranoia), To Serve Man (Richard Kiel is 9-foot tall alien who says he’s on Earth to aid mankind), and, perhaps my favorite, Five Characters in Search of an Exit (a heartbreaking little slice of existentialism). The series (which ran from 1959 – 1964) has more than stood the test of time – many of it’s messages are still just as relevant today, and the twist endings still just as impactful – it is quite simply one of the best TV shows ever.
Then, there was – Night Gallery. Serling’s next project found him leaning away from sci-fi and more towards horror, and, the series may have missed the mark more often than not. Regardless, as a kid, I fully embraced it. My preadolescent brain thought this was one of the best things to ever happen to TV. The music and images of the opening credits alone did (and still does) scare the bejesus out of me (and, call me finicky, but I prefer my bejesus deep inside of me, thank you very much). When I would hear the opening notes of that twisted tune, the tone was set – I knew that I was in for a delightfully disturbing hour of horror. Seen recently thru adult eyes, I’ll say that Night Gallery perhaps hasn’t aged quite as well as the Twilight Zone, but between spying long gone actors and chuckling over hairstyles and fashions of the day (1970-1973), there’s a wonderful nostalgia trip to be had in watching almost any of the episodes. That being said, the show does indeed have moments of true creepiness. In fact, some episodes were quite effective: The Sins of the Fathers (famine forces a boy, Richard Thomas, to become a sin-eater), The Caterpillar (put it in your ear and it eats through your brain!), and perhaps my favorite – The Flip-Side of Satan. It’s a bit goofy (it does star Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Arte Johnson after all), but the story of a late night dj working alone at an isolated radio station has a moment that still freaks me out – the sound of the demonic incantations from the mysterious record he plays continue to haunt me (it’s just as spooky as the opening title score!).
Rod had a productive career – ranging from radio to TV to film (he co-wrote the screenplay for the original Planet of the Apes movie). He was the winner of multiple awards (including 6 Emmys) – and thanks to his talent and success (and partly through his many censorship battles and various network struggles), he actually helped to form some of televisions industry standards.
Friday, June 28, 2013 marks 38 years since Rod Serlings’ passing. He died of a heart attack at age 50. As Rod said in the Twilight Zone Ring-a-Ding Girl episode: “We are all travellers. The trip starts in a place called birth – and ends in that lonely town called death. And that’s the end of the journey, unless you happen to exist for a few hours in the misty regions of the Twilight Zone…”