“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way—not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”
With those words—five years after the cancellation of The Twilight Zone—creator-host Rod Serling once again introduced television viewers to a fantasy anthology series that would shatter the traditional and often mundane video landscape. Serling viewed Night Gallery as a logical extension of The Twilight Zone, but while both series shared an interest in thought-provoking dark fantasy, the lion’s share of Zone‘s offerings were science fiction while Night Gallery focused on the other side of the genre: horror and the supernatural.
Night Gallery distinguished itself from the first. The 1969 pilot springboarded the career of Steven Spielberg, who, in his first industry job, directed silver-screen legend Joan Crawford in the film’s second segment, “Eyes.” Picked up as a series, Night Gallery‘s brief first season was televised along with three other series as part of NBC’s experimental programming wheel, Four in One. Earning an Emmy nomination for Serling’s poignant offering “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” the series was granted a full season in the next year, producing such memorable episodes as “Class of ’99,” “A Fear of Spiders,” “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” “A Question of Fear,” “Pickman’s Model,” “Cool Air,” “Camera Obscura,” “The Messiah on Mott Street,” “Green Fingers,” “Lindemann’s Catch,” “The Sins of the Fathers,” and “The Caterpillar.”
Strains began to surface, however, between Serling and executive producer Jack Laird over Laird’s inclusion of a series of brief, comedic vignettes among the more serious entries, as well as unsanctioned changes to a handful of Serling’s scripts. Further complications ensued when the series was renewed for a third season. NBC cut Night Gallery down from an hour to a half hour, requesting additionally a refocus in the story material from the thoughtful to the lurid. Although the series brought off a few stylish turns out of this new format—”The Return of the Sorcerer,” “The Other Way Out,” “Something in the Woodwork”—few of the new segments matched the excellence of the previous seasons. NBC cancelled Night Gallery after 15 episodes.