Thursday, April 4, 2013
ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY: AN AFTER-HOURS TOUR
Now that this series has been released on DVD, it is much easier to re-evaluate, although fourteen years ago authors Skelton and Benson did an estimable job of doing so with this scrupulously researched volume. Let me say at the outset that, having watched all the episodes in their original form, I am not as carried away with the program as the authors -- in fact, in some ways I found the book to be more entertaining than the series -- but whether you have fond memories of Rod Serling's Night Gallery or thought it personified the expression "boob tube," you might still enjoy this book. In addition to supplying plot synopses and critiques of each episode and segment, the authors bolster the manuscript with dozens of fresh interviews with the show's cast members and creative personnel. They write with intelligence and authority on the behind-the-scenes battles between Rod Serling, who discovered he was just the host and figurehead and had little creative input, and producer Jack Laird, who seemed to fancy that he was more talented a writer than Serling (and was not). The authors rightly point out that even Twilight Zone had its share of stinkers, and they assess each Night Gallery segment by dissecting what worked and what didn't when it came to script, direction, acting, and even special effects and musical score. One of the most interesting sections of the book deals with what happened to the series in syndication, when longer segments were chopped down [including the acclaimed episode "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar," which perhaps everyone overpraised] and shorter segments were padded out with stock footage that made some of them even more incomprehensible. Worse, episodes from another spooky series were enlisted to create a more attractive syndication package. A bizarre side feature of After-Hours Tour is all the praise garnered for director Jeannot Swarc, whose theatrical career [Somewhere in Time; Jaws 2] was completely undistinguished and who quickly fled back to television. Skelton and Benson admit that some of the Night Gallery episodes, especially the black-outs, were pretty awful, but they do make a case for some of the segments that they found much more memorable [even if you ultimately disagree]. Whether they convince you or not, An After-Hours Tour is an admirable and very well-written work of scholarship, well-produced by Syracuse University's publishing division.
Verdict: Informative, authoritative, and entertaining. ***1/2.