Conceived as an updating of "The Twilight Zone" concept, Serling reportedly began planning the series soon after The Twilight Zone (1959) was cancelled in 1964.
John Astin appeared in three separate episodes of this show. During each episode, his character was killed, and during two episodes, his character found himself in Hell. He also directed three episodes of the show.
Two segments, and possibly a third, were directed by Steven Spielberg. According to the book, "Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After Hours Tour", Spielberg was scheduled to direct the 1971 vignette "A Matter of Semantics" starring Cesar Romero. Those involved with the production are unclear in their memory as to whether Spielberg directed the piece, which was ultimately credited to Jack Laird. At least one actor involved in the two-minute mini-episode recalls a director who more closely fits Spielberg's description than Laird's. Beginning with the second season, and despite Rod Serling's objections, the producers began to insert brief one to three minute "blackout comedy" sketches in between main segments of some episodes, usually when an episode was running short. The merits of these brief vignettes remain controversial among this show's fans to this day.
Episodes from the hour long The Sixth Sense (1972), starring Gary Collins, were edited down into half-hours, and added to this show's syndication package. Studios find it easier to sell programs in syndication when they have more episodes in the package, as local stations know audiences are more likely to grow tired of a program if the same episodes are repeated over and over again within a short period of time. Adding the edited The Sixth Sense (1972) programs made syndicating the program easier.
Rod Serling had originally conceived of a show like this one when he was still working on The Twilight Zone (1959). He had originally wanted to change the stories to be shown during the final season from fantasy to horror (the genre he preferred), but CBS adamantly refused to agree to it. Unfortunately for Serling, on this show, he did not have the same kind of control over the program like he did on The Twilight Zone (1959), as he was just the host and occasional story contributor. Serling frequently clashed with the show's producer over the quality of stories shown on the program.
The syndicated version of the series took individual segments from the original hour long program and worked them into half-hour episodes. This sometimes meant editing out footage from original episodes that ran longer than a half an hour, or adding footage to those that originally were shorter than half an hour.
One year before the debut of Kung Fu (1972), David Carradine and Radames Pera, who each played the "Kung Fu" character of Kwai Chang Caine at different ages throughout that series, appeared in the same episode of this show, though in different segments. Carradine appeared in season two, episode sixteen, "Phantom Farmhouse", and Pera appeared in season two, episode seventeen, "Silent Snow, Secret Snow".
Four-In-One (1970) rotated four separate shows: this show, McCloud (1970), San Francisco International Airport (1970), and The Psychiatrist (1970). The last two programs were cancelled after that season; McCloud (1970) became part of the new Mystery Movie series (along with Columbo (1971), and McMillan & Wife (1971)) and this show was given its own time slot.
Mark Hamill made an early acting appearance on camera during the second season, 6 years before "Star Wars."
The set used by Rod Serling to introduce each story contained paintings and sculptures. Only paintings were used, however, to illustrate a story's title.
Rod Serling didn't remember retain many fond memories of the "Night Gallery" show, mainly due to his strained working relationship with producer Jack Laird. Serling felt (perhaps correctly) that his reputation for being a writer of serious drama, was being undermined by the quirky vignettes. Laird was responsible for their inclusion and he had the final say over the whole production.
Like most TV shows, "Night Gallery" was produced on a tight budget and shooting schedule. During the filming of a story that had a period setting, director John Badham missed a few camera shots that included a horse and cart. As this was rented, Badham had to inform Jack Laird that he needed the horse and cart once again to finish the story. Apparently, Laird grumbled and complained about the expense - but still gave John Badham the $50 regardless.
Jack Laird remained a bit of a recluse during production of "Night Gallery." He rarely interacted with anyone associated with any aspect of filming.
Rod Serling pitched the idea of his being a curator for a wax museum, where by he would introduce the stories via the museum exhibits. No TV network showed any interest, so Rod Serling made a few changes to his pitch.
Actors of various styles and background appeared in "Night Gallery." Amongst the cast were: Geraldine Page, David McCallum, Stuart Whitman, Laurence Harvey, Harry Guardino, Kim Hunter, Bill Bixby, Burgess Meredith, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Nielsen, Lindsay Wagner and many others.
The show was made at a breakneck speed. On average, each segment was shot within 2 and a half days. Jack Laird was a stickler for ensuring that everything finished on time and on budget and did fire one of the directors for failing to abide by these requirements, allegedly.
Back in the early 70s, it wasn't common practice to show any blood or gore on American TV. "Night Gallery" was one of the first shows to change this.
The pilot episode featured a young and upcoming director by the name of Steven Spielberg. He directed the story, "Eyes."
The pilot episode differs in a few ways to the regular show. The opening and closing music is completely different, as is the opening credit sequence.
Neither "Universal" or the TV networks were very impressed with the show. They felt "Night Gallery" to be too unconventional and off centre.
Jack Laird got into the spirit of the occasion by appearing in some of the productions, through the rather bizarre make ups and costumes he wore.
The Night Gallery episode that most critics say is the most horrifying; perhaps the scariest episode Rod Serling has done; including the Twilight Zone episodes; is "The Caterpillar." The episode is about a man who has a earwig (accidentally) inserted into his ear; and the disastrous results of that.