Classic Sci Fi TV: 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.
Aired: NBC, 1949-52, 3 Seasons Totaling 152 Episodes (Plus a Tryout 4 Ep Season in 1946)
Developed By: Fred Coe
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 (such as the classic episode above which stared Burgess Meredith). 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 and it can be a bit of a chore to watch, especially when you factor in the production values from the early era of television. 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 experience an early stab at a genre anthology series that would go on to influence the more celebrated shows that would follow it.
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 comedy 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.
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.
Should It Be Rebooted? Possibly. With the revival craze in the air and the new Twilight Zone having just debuted on CBS All Access, seems like it would make sense to bring this one back as well, especially considering the fact that anthology shows lend themselves well to the reboot. It is not as well known, though, so likely television execs will stick with shows like TZ and Tales from the Darkside that have better name recognition.
Interesting Fact: 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. 1949’s Captain Video and His Video Rangers was the first sci fi / fantasy entry that landed on television as an ongoing series, as it debuted on June 27, 1949 vs the July 19, 1949 bow for the ongoing version of Lights Out.
Where Can You Watch 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. You can also find episodes available for streaming on YouTube.
Buy Lights Out on DVD from Amazon.com: