Our ongoing look back at many of the classics of science fiction and fantasy television.
What Is It? This anthology series based on the radio show of the same name delivered tales of suspense, horror, sci fi, and the supernatural.
When Did It Air? NBC, 1949-52, 3 Seasons Totaling 152 Episodes (Plus a Tryout 4 Ep Season in 1946)
Notable Guest Stars: Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Anthony Quinn, Leslie Nielsen, Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith
Is It Must-Watch Sci Fi TV? Worth a look. This was the first genre anthology on television and it delivered some pretty spooky tales for its time.
The Skinny: This series may not have delivered a sci fi / fantasy tale each week as it had plenty of episodes in the suspense / mystery category much like Boris Karloff’s Thriller which would follow a decade later. But Lights Out still delivered plenty of stories that would appeal to genre fans and it was first on the scene. It may not have as many episodes that would approach the level of the classics delivered by the better known Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, but it had its fair share of gems. And plenty of familiar faces showed up in guest-starring roles, just as with the other anthology shows (take a look at the talent at this link). Unfortunately, the surviving episodes are available only as kinescopes (filmed recordings of the live broadcasts over a television), so the quality is not great making this one a bit of a chore to watch, especially considering the production values were not that great to begin with. That’s probably why the show did not have much life in syndication after the 1950’s. But it is at least worth sampling some of the episodes to see an early stab at a genre anthology series that would go on to influence the more celebrated shows that would follow it. This series has been released on home video, but they are budget DVDs and do nothing to enhance the quality of the viewing experience. The show is in the public domain, so their are unofficial releases out there as well, but the quality of those is very hit and miss.
Cancelled Too Soon? Possibly. According to IMDb.com, Billboard magazine indicated in June of 1951 that Lights Out was the top-rated mystery/crime show on television. But in the Fall of 1951, an upstart new show titled I Love Lucy debuted on CBS in the same timeslot causing the ratings for Lights Out to plummet and it was cancelled by the end of the season.
Essential Episodes: I haven’t seen enough episodes to give my own list and I haven’t found a good list on the Internet. But if you know of one, please pass it along.
Revival: In 1972, NBC did a Lights Out TV movie, but it was not well received and did not revive the franchise. The recent Lights Out horror movie that hit the big screen has no relation to the television anthology series.
Did You Know? Lights Out could arguably be considered the first sci fi / fantasy television series. It originally made it to the small screen in 1946 with a tryout series adapted from the radio programs. There is no indication that it was intended to continue as an ongoing TV series at that time (it may have just been a promotion for the radio version) and those episodes–broadcast live–are long since lost. I personally count Captain Video and His Video Rangers as the birth of sci fi TV as it was the first that landed on television as an ongoing series (it debuted on June 27, 1949 vs the July 19, 1949 bow for the ongoing version of Lights Out).
Buy Lights Out on DVD from Amazon.com: