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An Expanded Edition of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” Will Soon Be on Exhibition

If you’re looking for a book about The Twilight Zone, you have several to choose from, starting with Marc Zicree’s seminal “Companion.” But if you want to read about Night Gallery, Serling’s follow-up series in the early ’70s, your choices are limited, really, to just one volume: “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour.”

Fortunately, it’s an excellent work. The copy I’ve owned for over two decades is a well-thumbed softcover autographed by co-author Scott Skelton (who I met when we did a presentation at Serling Fest 2019). It’s a treasure trove of information, and a great read. Scott and co-author Jim Benson dug into the archives and interviewed dozens of people who worked on both sides of the camera, and served up a highly entertaining slice of TV history.

When they followed that up a couple years ago with “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness,” an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings, I was in Gallery heaven. What could be better?

Oh, how about a new, expanded edition of Scott and Jim’s original book?

Usually, when an “expanded” edition of some book comes out, it means you get a new foreword, an afterword, or other mostly cosmetic improvements. Not this time. This new edition more than doubles the size of the previous one. The original was 404 pages; this one is 824. The original featured a limited number of pics, all in black and white; this one is crammed with pics, many of them in color. Material that the original publisher insisted on cutting in the 1990s has been restored and augmented with new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Green Fingers”

For our next stop in this “cavern of canvasses,” we move over to the gardening section and meet an unusual lady. As Rod Serling puts it:

For the horticulturists amongst you, here’s a dandy. A lady who plants things, and then steps back and watches them grow. Roses, rhododendron, tulips. And things never before to be found coming out of the ground — just put in. The subject of this painting has green fingers.

Even the most casual Night Gallery fans tend to remember this one. And how could they not? I mean, you’ve got Elsa Lanchester, decades after she starred as the “Bride of Frankenstein,” playing Lydia Bowen, an elderly woman with an eerily unnatural gift when it comes to gardening.

(Spoilers ahead, naturally, so if you haven’t seen the episode before, you may want to check it out on DVD before coming back.)

We meet Mrs. Bowen as she’s outside her house one day, tending to her numerous plants. In an inspired touch, we hear a harpsichord playing “Greensleeves.” Two cars pull up, and out of the more expensive one steps a wealthy land developer named Michael Saunders, played by character actor Cameron Mitchell (who would later star in Season 3’s “Finnegan’s Flight” with Burgess Meredith). It quickly becomes obvious, as he talks with his assistant, Ernie, that he’s a rather unscrupulous individual determined to get Mrs. Bowen’s land and raze her house for a huge factory he’s building.

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Serling Fest 2022: A Stellar Line-Up Set to Appear in Binghamton August 12-14

That’s right, fifth-dimension fans. It hasn’t even been a full year since the 2021 “Serling Fest,” but we’re getting set to gather again — this time on the second weekend of August.

But a couple of things haven’t changed, I’m glad to say. As usual, we’ll meet in Rod’s hometown of Binghamton, New York. And just as before, a great line-up of presenters and programs are on the slate. Check it out:

So we’ll get:

  • Anne Serling, Rod’s younger daughter and author of “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling
  • Tony Albarella, editor of “As Timeless of Infinity,” a 10-volume set of Serling’s Twilight Zone scripts
  • Marc Zicree, author of “The Twilight Zone Companion
  • Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and author of “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination
  • Mark Dawidziak, author of “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone”
  • Mark Olshaker, a friend of Serling’s and author of numerous books, including the “Mindhunter” ones with John Douglas
  • Courtland Hull, the artist who painted the Zone-themed panels at the Recreation Park carousel that inspired “Walking Distance”
  • Jonathan Napolitano, director of “The Carousel”

Here’s what they’ve got lined up over the three-day period:

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “A Death in the Family”

I hope you haven’t found the previous stops in my Night GalleryRe-Framing Efforts” too unnerving … because our next sojourn in this shadowy world takes place at a funeral home. Get ready to meet Jared Soames, played by legendary actor E.G. Marshall. He’s probably the most compassionate undertaker you’ll ever meet.

He’s also the weirdest. Because if a particular corpse strikes his fancy, he won’t give it a dignified burial. He’ll bury a weighted coffin and adopt the dearly departed into the “family” of corpses that he keeps in the basement, all carefully arranged in a birthday-party tableau. (Spoilers ahead, naturally, so if you’d rather see the Gallery version first, check it out on DVD before reading further.)

We see Soames in the beginning as he takes possession of a charity burial. He’s disturbed by the cavalier attitude of the ambulance drivers, who turn over the body of one Simon Cottner with all the decorum of an Amazon package. Where, he asks earnestly, are the flowers, the music, and the mourners? They look at him like he’s crazy. Simon had no friends, one of them tells him. There’s no one to miss “the stiff,” as they call him more than once.

And they don’t seem all that broken up about it. To them, it’s just a job. But to Soames, this is a mission.

As he tells his latest charge after they’ve left: “Simon, old man. You lived 81 years. You deserve more than a $100 funeral. But don’t you worry. You shall have more. Much more.”

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The Imaginative World of Charles Beaumont: Vote for His Best Twilight Zone Story

The most famous writer of The Twilight Zone? Rod Serling, obviously. Besides creating, producing, and hosting the series, he penned no fewer than 92 scripts for it. But after him?

Charles Beaumont

Most fans, I think, would pick Richard Matheson. And who could blame them? The legendary author’s contributions to the Zone include some truly iconic episodes, such as “Little Girl Lost,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

Few fans would name Charles Beaumont. And that’s a shame. Not only was he the most prolific Zone writer after Serling — logging 22 scripts to Matheson’s 14 — but his fertile imagination created some of the most mind-bending tales in the fifth dimension.

So I thought it might be fun to give fans a chance to select their favorite Beaumont episode, the same way I did with Matheson back in 2013. In fact, I was thinking about doing a new Matheson poll post when it occurred to me to finally do one for Beaumont. I’ll circle back to Matheson soon enough, but let’s give Beaumont some much-deserved attention.

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Night Gallery Season 2 is Headed to Blu-ray — Here’s What to Expect

For a long time, I had nothing hopeful to say when Night Gallery fans would ask me if we’d ever see a Blu-ray release of the series.

Rod Serling introducing “Make Me Laugh”

I’d tell them how long it took for it to come out on DVD, and say we were lucky to have it on disc at all. MAYBE we’ll see a Blu-ray someday, I’d add, but don’t hold your breath.

Then Season 1 came out on Blu-ray last November.

And Season 2, I’m happy to say, is about to follow — either on July 19 or July 26, depending on who you ask.

This is terrific news for a couple reasons. One is that Season 2 marks when the series went to a weekly format, so you get a lot more material. Many of the show’s finest segments aired in Season 2, like “Class of ’99” with Vincent Price, “Cool Air,” “A Death in the Family” and “Green Fingers.”

“Class of ’99”

The other reason is that Kino Lorber has really packed this one with extras. Besides the cleaned-up video and audio, we get audio commentaries on every episode, not the half dozen or so we got on the Season 2 DVDs. I’m especially glad to see so many by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, co-authors of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” (which will soon be released in an expanded and revised edition).

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The Secret Behind Nehemiah Persoff’s Vivid Portrayal of a Twilight Zone Villain

So few of the original Twilight Zone stars are still with us. Just a handful, really, if you don’t count ones who were children when they appeared on the show. So when one of them dies, it can feel like we’ve lost a close friend or family member.

Such was the case when the news broke that Nehemiah Persoff had passed away at 102. A gifted and prolific performer, he played a memorable villain early in the Zone‘s first season.

An amnesiac who spends most of “Judgment Night” trying to figure out who he is and why he has a premonition of doom, U-boat Capt. Carl Lanser may not be as hateful as SS Capt. Gunther Lutze in Season 3’s “Deaths-Head Revisited,” but his eternal “reward” is no less harsh. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that he is constantly reliving the night he ordered the destruction of a WW2-era ship loaded with civilians — this time as a passenger on the ill-fated vessel himself.

I have yet to do a deep dive on “Judgment Night.” That will come, but my goal today is more modest: to share a tribute to Persoff published in The Washington Post. Most of the Post‘s content is behind a pay wall, but it’s my understanding that this article is free to all. Even if you can’t read it all, though, I just want to spotlight a couple of points in it, which I’ll quote here.

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The Right Length for a Twilight Zone: Half an Hour or an Hour? How Serling’s Answer Changed

Opinions about Twilight Zone‘s fourth season, when Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series expanded to an hour, vary widely. Some fans really enjoy it. Others? Not so much.

“I Dream of Genie”

But even the biggest cheerleaders for Season 4 will admit that Serling and his fellow scribes were much more in the Zone, shall we say, when their stories clocked in at 25 minutes, not 50.

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” Serling said at one of several points when talk of an hour-long version came up. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch 15 minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

There’s a little Zone-like foreshadowing. Serling’s foray into the fifth dimension soon became an hour-long jaunt, and his warning about “fleshening” would prove prophetic. You’ve heard of doing more with less; this was a case of doing less with more.

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford”

That’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have some good episodes. We got, for example, “He’s Alive” (with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being coached by Adolf Hitler’s ghost), “The New Exhibit” (Martin Balsam as the curator of some homicidal wax figures), “Printer’s Devil” (Burgess Meredith as a diabolically talented journalist), and “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (James Whitmore as the power-hungry leader of a barren space colony).

I could name others, and perhaps you could too. As Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, wrote: “The series had not disgraced itself.”

Far from it, in fact. Still, it was wise to go back to the half-hour slot for Season 5. As Buck Houghton, TZ’s producer through its first three seasons, later pointed out, the extra length made it very tough to do the kind of surprise endings that Serling and the other Zone writers specialized in throughout most of the show’s run.

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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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