Spielberg’s first official directing gig, after Universal Studios tasked him with making a short film called “Amblin'” in 1968 (that’s where the name of his production company came from), was “Night Gallery.” The pilot episode, originally released as a TV movie in 1969, was an anthology of three horror short films. Spielberg was one of three directors enlisted for the episode, along with Emmy nominee Boris Sagal (“The Omega Man”) and Barry Shear (“Wild in the Streets”), each of whom tackled one the scary stories written by Rod Serling.
The premise of “Night Gallery” is that, in every episode, Serling introduces a mysterious painting that captures a single moment of terror. The episode then expands on that tale, revealing how the nightmare came to pass. The pilot features three tales of terror. The first, “The Cemetery,” directed by Sagal, stars Roddy McDowall as a conniving, murderous nephew who gets tortured by a painting he inherits. The third, “Escape Route,” directed by Shear, stars Richard Kiley (who would eventually provide the narration for the rides in Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park”) as a Nazi hiding in South America, who dreams of escaping into a peaceful painting, and receives instead an ironic comeuppance.
Spielberg’s middle installment is the one best remembered today, and not just because its director became famous. “Eyes” stars Joan Crawford as a sadistic millionaire, blind since birth, who schemes to take the vision of a desperate man, played by Tom Bosley (“Happy Days”). The only problem is, she will only be able to see for a few hours, and as soon as her vision kicks in there’s a massive blackout, and she doesn’t get to enjoy it. It would rival “Time Enough at Last” for the most depressing ending in TV history if only she were the slightest bit sympathetic.