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I first got to know local pop culture historian and TV Time Machine host Jim Benson back around 1994, when I was editing a newsstand teen magazine called TV Teens, concerning, well, teens on TV. Jim maintains a complete collection of TV Guide issues, and was an invaluable asset to unlucky TV Teen writers assigned to constructing complete episode guide encyclopedias for then-hot shows like Blossom, Young Riders, Beverly Hills 90210

Crappy assignments, to be sure, but such pre-internet ephemera was only available thanks to historians like Benson, whose life mission is essentially to unearth and chronicle untold tales of pop culture icons.

Having been involved with the recent DVD sets collecting Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, his work in the upcoming Season Three set (shipping April 10) includes an audacious re-building of a “lost” episode, editing and remastering recovered footage into what’s essentially a “new” episode of the old horror chestnut.

Image Benson co-authored Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour in 1997, hailed as one of the finest books ever written about a television series, as well as serving as creative consultant on the Mystery Channel’s Night Gallery documentary, The Art of Darkness.

Image In 2008, he worked with Academy Award-nominated director Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II) in his capacity as Historical Consultant on Universal Home Video’s Night Gallery Season Two DVD box set.


"As I said on the DVD, Night Gallery is a seminal work in my life," says Del Toro. “If you look at the movies I do, there's always a little something of Night Gallery. I first started noticing filmic style watching the show. It has informed Pan's Labyrinth, The Devil's Backbone, and basically everything else. For my generation, it was more Night Gallery than The Twilight Zone."

Through TV Time Machine Productions, Benson was able to provide the Season Three set with audio commentary and production for ten individual episodes of the series, including “The Academy” starring Pat Boone, “Camera Obscura” starring Ross Martin and Rene Auberjonois, and “A Fear of Spiders,” starring Patrick O’Neal and Kim Stanley (click below to hear a sample from Benson and Skelton’s audio commentary from “A Fear of Spiders”).

Image The set, shipping in April, includes two discs with seventeen episodes featuring guest stars like Vincent Price, Bill Bixby, John Astin, James Farentino, Barbara Anderson, Ellen Corby, Alan Napier, Mickey Rooney, Sandra Dee, Gary Lockwood, Joan Van Ark, Chuck Conners, Frankie Van, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Lindsay Wagner, Burl Ives, Burgess Meredith, Leonard Nimoy, Lorraine Gary, Leif Erickson, Geraldine Page, Lesley Ann Warren, Dean Stockwell, Sally Field, Susan Strasberg, Steve Forrest, Dina Merrill, Will Geer, Slim Pickens, and more.

Though the official announcement has yet to come from Universal, Benson let slip some of the extra goodies coming in volume three, as reported by www.tvshowsonDVD.com, including details on the four film segments Benson and his Night Gallery book co-author Scott Skelton re-edited for the “lost” episode, which will also include their audio commentary.

The four rarely-seen segments are "Die Now, Pay Later," "Room For One Less," "Witches' Feast," and "Little Girl Lost."

“When Night Gallery was syndicated in 1973, several of the individual segments comprising the show's original hour-long versions were either shortened or lengthened to create new half-hour episodes. Most of Rod Serling's Night Gallery has been restored and is available on Universal's volume one and two DVD releases. However, these four segments are the few that required restoration to bring them back to their original state.”

“Once Universal's Julie Harter green-lighted this unique project, the job of finding missing and original elements began. Because of the fragmented nature of the series, the process was similar to putting hundreds of jumbled puzzle pieces back together to create a coherent and complete picture. After two months of mining the vast archives of Universal Studios, most of the missing elements were found.”

Those missing elements include:

• "Die Now, Pay Later," an episode never aired on NBC, was lengthened for syndication in 1973 and has never been seen in its original form. This segment was painstakingly reconstructed from original 35 mm elements, and the majority of the episode was brought back to its original state.

• "Room for One Less," a one-minute vignette that never aired on NBC, was restored using original elements, including original optical titles. Rare, behind-the-scenes footage of Rod Serling shooting his introduction for this segment is included as an "easter egg" on the DVD set.

• "Witches' Feast" was remastered from original 35mm elements. This segment ran only once on NBC in a repeat airing, and has been rarely seen since.

• "Little Girl Lost" originally had six minutes of footage excised before the segment aired on NBC in 1972. Working with colorist Skip Martin, existing 35 and 16mm elements were meticulously matched, reinstating the missing six minutes.

Since "Die Now, Pay Later" was never fully completed in 1971, a new slate of music cues (taken from existing episodes) were included in the soundtrack. "Room for One Less" also received a revised music track.

“After the restoration process, the four segments were edited together and using the familiar main title, a ‘new’ hour-long Night Gallery episode was created. New end title credits were also designed, and the classic NBC network bumper not seen in decades, featuring a series of horrific faces, was reinstated.”

Benson’s longrunning internet show TV Time Machine has logged quite an archive of interviews with a variety of pop icons, including a career-spanning retrospective with Twilight Zone and Star Trek writer George Clayton Johnson. Recent interviews at http://www.tvtimemachine.com/ include actress Barbara Eden, filmmaker Ken Burns, and the last interview done by the late Peter Falk.

Last year, the show made its terrestrial radio debut in the San Diego market on 1170 KCBQ-AM.

I was pretty young when Night Gallery aired and only vaguely recall bits of various episodes. RTN, the Retro TV Network, was airing half hour eps each weeknight for awhile, and I caught one I don't remember seeing before, "Brenda," that really grabbed my attention.

Turns out Boris Karloff's Thriller and Twilight Zone vet Doug Heyes scripted it, but under a pseudonym.

Heyes did some of the greatest Zone eps, like the fondly remembered "Eye of the Beholder," but I'm particularly a fan of his work on Boris Karloff's Thriller, like the "Hungy Glass" episode with Shatner and Russell "Professor" Johnson. Even horror author Stephen King has said it was one of the most terrifying things he remembers seeing on TV.

Image "Brenda" is a really strange ep about a mentally unbalanced girl who both befriends and taunts what looks to be a close relative of the Swamp Thing.

Image (SPOILER PARAGRAPH) The girl is so wacked out that she imagines some kind of love affair with the creature, which sounds silly to type but actually made for a compelling storyline.

Image The way the actress played out a year in her character's skewed and psychotic life, it managed to seem as if she's grown up when she returns to her monster's island, only to quickly crack back up into the whacked out lonely girl who may either marry or be eaten by her moldy man-thing.

Image There are a few Thriller-like and Heyes-like touches, such as back-to-back shots that alternate between pure terror and the young girl's strangely joyful reactions to the terror, like she's watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon instead of seeing her parents practically dumping in their drawers as they realize the swamp creature in their house (that she let in...with a giggle!) is impervious to their weapons.

Opinions on "Brenda" are wildly mixed at IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0660795/usercomments

I enjoyed it, tho it was unlike most Gallery eps, and I would have found it worth my half hour even if I hadn't noticed Heyes' credit on the IMDB page.

While I’ve not yet picked up Universal’s previous two Night Gallery collections, the news about Season Three sent me straight to Amazon to preorder. Tho the series runs hot and cold for me, and Rod Serling himself felt the need to distance himself from most of the episodes, I look forward to the opportunity to re-examine the show nearly 40 years after it went off the air.

Jim Benson is currently producing audio commentary for The Twilight Zone Blu-Ray DVD release, and putting the finishing touches on TV Time Machine Productions DVD release of the John Astin/Marty Ingels 1962 ABC TV sitcom I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster.


More on the Night Gallery Season Three extras and goodies at http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Night-Gallery-Season-3/16412

Related Stories on the Reader Website:


TWILIGHT ZONE AND STAR TREK WRITER GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON PRESENTS - The inside story of a local horror comic book series featuring Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, plus sci-fi king Larry Niven, Zap Comix co-founder Spain Rodriguez, Matthew Alice artist Rick Geary, Vampire Lestat painter Daerick Gross, yours truly JAS, and many more...




We asked 25 local celebs "What's Your Favorite Twilight Zone?" -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...


"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa’s Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

Image "Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

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