Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Cool Air”

If you’re a Night Gallery fan, you get used to hearing some people dismiss it, based either on the syndication edit (which butchered some episodes and padded others) or because someone who’s never seen it read something negative about it. One of the most persistent myths is that Rod Serling merely hosted the series.

No one can deny that Night Gallery would’ve been better off if Serling had been more involved. However, he did more than simply host it. He created it, for one thing. He fought with producer Jack Laird to make it a better series, and he even scored a few victories. Perhaps most importantly, he wrote for it: 38 scripts, some of which can be ranked among his finest work.

As on The Twilight Zone, he came up with some excellent originals. But he also adapted some intriguing short stories by other authors – 17 of that 38 – and as I’ve shown in the first two entries of my “Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts,” he often improved on the source material.

So let’s proceed to stop number three in this “nocturnal arcade.” I’ll give you a recap of the episode so we can better appreciate how Serling changed the original short story by H.P. Lovecraft. (Spoilers ahead, so if you’d rather see the Gallery version first, check it out on DVD.)

We’re in New York City in 1923. But the short opening scene is in the present (or the then-present) as an as-yet-unseen narrator – an elderly lady, from the sound of it – moves through an unkempt, windy graveyard and finally stops and lays flowers on a flat, leaf-covered tombstone. She’s visited this person once a year for over 50 years, she says, but it’s been so long now she has trouble recalling his face and his voice.

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Syfy’s 2021-2022 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Ah, the Twilight Zone marathon. It’s become such a fixture of each New Year’s Eve. Can you think of a better way to ring out the old and ring in the new than with Rod Serling?

Sure, there are drawbacks to watching the Zone this way. The ads and the edits sometimes seem as if they’ve been engineered by Talky Tina. It’s best to watch the show on disc, frankly. But there’s something comforting about the tradition of the NYE marathon. Plus, it’s great to all be watching at the same time and interacting over social media.

So let’s get to the big question: What will they be showing this year? I know some fans like to be surprised, but most fans appreciate a heads up. So, courtesy of the friendly folks at Syfy (who were nice enough to share the lineup with me ahead of time), here’s the schedule for the 2021-2022 marathon: 104 episodes out of TZ’s 156. Times shown are EST, btw:

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Which Videotaped Episode of the Twilight Zone is Best? Now You Can Cast Your Vote

One of the many hallmarks of The Twilight Zone is how good it looks. Rod Serling promised viewers “television’s elites,” and we got that — both in front of and behind the camera. Each episode was a visual feast, filled with clear, shadow-laden shots that outshines much of what we see on TV even today.

“Walking Distance”

Which is why the six videotaped episodes that popped up in Season 2 stick out like a Kanamit’s sore thumb. Even if you enjoy the stories (and I do, for the most part), it’s a clear step down from the vivid film images we get in the other 150 episodes.

But I’m not here today to dwell on that. (For more on why they were filmed that way, try this short post.) I’m here to ask a basic question: No matter where you stand on the videotaped episodes, which one do you consider the best?

Even if you cringe at the overall look of them, I’m betting most fans still can pick a favorite. So if you’re not among that tiny group who swears they can’t even watch them, how about casting a vote?

Here are the candidates:

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A Kickstarter Campaign is Underway to Build a Statue of Rod Serling in His Hometown — And You Can Help

What does Rod Serling mean to you?

Perhaps you’re a writer who finds his work inspiring. In fact, you may have even gotten into writing in the first place because of Rod Serling. I hear from a lot of people who say that.

Maybe you’re an actor or a producer whose imagination was sparked by The Twilight Zone, and your career path was lighted years ago by the man who penned such classics as “The Midnight Sun”, “Eye of the Beholder”, and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, to name only a few of his many beloved scripts.

Or, like so many others, you could be a fan of science fiction and fantasy stories, and you can trace your love of the genre back to watching the Zone.

Whatever your particular circumstances, we share that bond: a love of Serling’s work, and a deep and abiding respect and admiration for the man himself. So let me ask you: Do you think he deserves to have a statue dedicated to him in his hometown of Binghamton, NY, home of the carousel that we see in “Walking Distance”?

I’m sure every Serling fan would agree that he merits such an honor. Well, I’m glad to say there’s an effort to get such a statue made underway right now — and you can help.

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “The Doll”

Willie. Caesar. Talky Tina. Yes, when it came to haunted dolls, The Twilight Zone certainly left its mark. But Night Gallery made one notable contribution to this spooky subgenre in its first season: “The Doll.”

That’s right, Gallery fans — the toy that resembles Barbie on meth. Talky Tina liked to talk, but not this little darling. Like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, she prefers to keep quiet (at least when she’s on screen) and let her weapons speak for themselves — said weapons in this case being a set of sharp teeth.

I guess with a calling card like that, you don’t need a name. Here’s how Serling sets it up:

“This little collector’s item here dates back a few hundred years to the British-Indian Colonial period — proving only that sometimes the least likely objects can be filled with the most likely horror. Our painting is called ‘The Doll,’ and this one you’d best not play with.”

This, by the way, is one of the few Gallery intros that fans will often quote to me — that last phrase, anyway — if I share the painting for this episode, or just a pic from it. So this story obviously has had a real impact on most viewers!

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Serling Fest 2021: An All-Star Line-Up Set to Appear in Binghamton Oct. 15-17

It’s been two years since we last had an in-person Serling Fest. Thanks a lot, Covid! 😒

We didn’t go completely without last year, though. Thanks to Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation (and author of an excellent volume on Rod Serling), we got to enjoy a one-day virtual Fest in August 2020. It was certainly fun, but there’s no substitute for meeting in person, is there?

So I’m happy to share with you the line-up for this year’s in-person (but masked) Serling Fest. It’s a packed agenda, and it includes a special guest: Marc Scott Zicree, author of the indispensable “Twilight Zone Companion.” There’s going to be talks, live performances, games, prizes — even a Kickstarter campaign to get a Rod Serling statue built in Recreation Park. And admission is free.

You may notice a familiar name on Sunday’s dance card. That’s right, yours truly will be there, in a presentation that covers “Rod Serling’s genius in adapting classic short stories by other authors into Night Gallery episodes.”

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“The Fugitive”: A Sweet Tale That Makes Some Twilight Zone Fans Uneasy. Should It?

When you’ve been fanning publicly over The Twilight Zone as long as I have, you start expecting certain reactions.

For example, when I tweet about “To Serve Man,” I know some people will make cookbook jokes. When I post a quote from “Time Enough at Last,” I’ll hear, “It’s not fair!” If the topic is “It’s a Good Life,” then “You’re a bad man!” is coming. And that’s fine! It’s part of the fun.

But not all predictable reactions are so benign. One that I don’t enjoy at all occurs when I tweet about “The Fugitive,” a story by Charles Beaumont that centers on the friendship between an old man named Ben and a young girl named Jenny.

This being the fifth dimension, Ben isn’t just an ordinary old man. In fact, we learn near the end (spoiler alert; click here to see where you can watch it first) that he’s neither old nor a man. Not an earth man, anyway. Ben is actually a rather young king from another planet.

So why was he here, disguised as actor J. Pat O’Malley? Because he got fed up with his royal responsibilities and ran away. The two men who have been hunting him down during the first half of the episode mean him no harm; they’re a duo from his planet, here to bring their popular monarch back home, where he can continue his benevolent rule.

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A Harsh “Encounter”: What a Long-Hidden Twilight Zone Can Teach Us About Hate

“It was a very harsh show. I’m sure it was considered too hot to handle.”

The speaker: Robert Butler, director of Twilight Zone’s “The Encounter.”

Few fans would disagree. The episode’s unflinching depiction of “raw conflict,” as Butler also described it, has been making audiences squirm since it first aired on May 1, 1964.

The racial antagonisms we see on-screen kept it off the air for the next couple days of decades. It was one of four Zone episodes that weren’t included in the original syndication package, and the only one excluded because it was controversial.

That’s a shame. Not because it’s a great episode — it’s not, despite earnest performances from Neville Brand and George Takei. No, it’s a shame because this episode, for all its faults, strikes me as one that’s eerily relevant today. In fact, I think we can learn something from it.

If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, feel free to watch it before perusing my spoiler-filled musings. To briefly recap: This is the one about a World War II vet and a Japanese-American who find themselves locked in an attic, arguing about a mysterious samurai sword and lobbing some racially-charged barbs.

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Night Gallery Headed for a Blu-ray Release at Last

I remember when I first saw Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in its original form. Not the exact date, no, but the year: 2004. That’s when NBC Universal issued Season 1 on DVD.

Until then, Gallery fans had only one choice: the reruns that aired on Syfy (and elsewhere) in the 1980s and ’90s. They were larded with commercials, of course, but worse, they were part of the Syndication Edit. I have a link at the end to explain what I mean by that, but the upshot is that the Night Gallery I’d been watching until 2004 was a poor substitute for the episodes that first aired between 1969 and 1973.

Season 1 is the shortest, though: only six hour-long episodes. Sure, the DVD set included the pilot movie — and Universal tried to pad it out further by including a couple “bonus” episodes from Seasons 2 and 3 — but we’re still not talking a LOT of entertainment. And it lacked any other extras: no interviews, documentaries, or commentaries. So I was really looking forward to Season 2 coming out.

And it did … four years later, in 2008. Then Season 3 came out … four years after that, in 2012. Eight years to collect them all!

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “The House”

“Ghost story.” The phrase evokes images of a creaky, abandoned house, filled with large cobwebs and banging shutters. A pale moon in a dark sky casts deep shadows. A figure in white glides through dusty ruins.

In other words, the opposite of what we get in Night Gallery‘s “The House.”

Oh, it’s about a ghost, but this tale of a haunting is set in bright daylight. The titular abode looks like a real-estate agent’s dream. And the apparition lurking inside isn’t a foreboding phantom under a sheet.

Sounds very modern, doesn’t it? And yet to bring viewers this unconventional twist on a familiar trope, Rod Serling adapted a story written many years earlier by a French writer named André Maurois. It’s truly a short short story — only about 800 words.

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