Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Night" of a Thousand Stars

I generally eat my lunch around the same time that the Chiller channel has been showing old episodes of "Night Gallery," and while I enjoy stories with a twist -- it's hard to watch a "Night Gallery" entry without sticking around for the ending -- I have also been trying to figure out why this show is, in so many ways, crummy. Rod Serling hosts and wrote many of the episodes, just as with "The Twilight Zone," and the casts are the same collection of veteran actors whose network series had been cancelled four years earlier.

But whereas I remember "Twilight Zone" as being taut and tension-filled, the "Night Gallery" eps I've seen feel bloated and stretched out, like they're just trying to pack enough dialog in to stumble toward the 30-minute mark. Part of that is because in syndication, the original hour-long shows - which featured two or three stories - have been cut to 30 minutes, and some of them had to be padded out. There's also some really cheesy early-Seventies facial hair, like the sideburns on Vincent Price or the sad, squirmy little mustache on sad, old Laurence Harvey - ten years from his triumph in The Manchurian Candidate and less than two years (in the other direction) from his death by stomach cancer - in "The Caterpillar." (Bill Bixby, the thinking man's Michael Landon, sidesteps this fate by appearing cleanshaven, although he doesn't forsake his trademark dork glasses.)

Adding to the degradation, "Night Gallery" was packaged in syndication with episodes of "The Sixth Sense," starring the terminally boring Gary Collins, before his stint hosting "Hour Magazine" and after his years as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, as a parapsycholgy investigator. Rod Serling himself taped intros for those shows, trying to make them look like "Night Gallery" episodes, in exchange for, as far as I can determine, a whole lot of cash.

And also, I suspect, to make those "Night Gallery" shows look a little better by comparison.

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