In early 1961, CBS needed a show to quickly fill a time slot left open by a failed series hosted by Jackie Gleason. The new show was called Way Out ... CBS had The Twilight Zone running at the time ... it consisted of half-hour episodes peeking into fantasy and sci-fi tales. The host was Roald Dahl, later famous for, among other things, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl would introduce each episode, similar to what Rod Serling was doing on Twilight Zone. (Boris Karloff filled this function with Thriller, as did Alfred Hitchcock on his series.)
The first episode of Way Out, “William and Mary”, based on a story by Dahl, tells of a man with terminal cancer who agrees to an experiment where his brain is connected to an artificial heart after his death. It works ... the man also retains one eye so he can see. He sends a note to his widowed wife, explaining what has happened. She takes him home with her, and proceeds to flaunt actions in front of him that he disapproved of when he was alive.
Reviews were good. Ratings were OK on the coasts, not so much in the rest of the country. Way Out was cancelled after 14 episodes.
There was one episode of Way Out that has stuck with me for 55+ years. This is where I offer my usual caveats about the limitations of memory. We’re talking about an episode of a short-lived television show that aired in 1961 (June 30 for the episode in question). We’re talking a time long before On Demand and video recorders and the Internet. Unless a show was very popular (I Love Lucy, for instance), reruns weren’t always shown. It is likely that the only time anyone was able to watch that episode was the night that it aired.
So, to place myself in the time period, on June 30, 1961, I was 8 years old, having turned 8 ten days earlier. It would have been near the beginning of summer vacation between 3rd and 4th grade. I was, in short, very young. I’m surprised my parents let me stay up to watch Way Out, which aired Friday nights at 9:30 ... perhaps this was because it was summer vacation.
The episode was called “Side Show”. There were a few actors that remain at least a little familiar: Myron McCormick, who was in what seemed like every TV series back then (he died in 1962); Murray Hamilton, a “hey, it’s that guy” playing a character named Harold Potter (J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be born for another four years ... hmmm, this would make a good plot on a fantasy series); Doris Roberts, then in her mid-30s, who 35 years later would begin a long run as a regular on Everybody Loves Raymond. The plot is about a carnival act run by McCormick that features an “electronic woman”, who seems normal except she has a light bulb where her head should be.
Reading that now, I think, “this would have worked better as a radio drama”, where the ludicrous image of the light bulb head wouldn’t be actual, but only a fantasy of my mind. But the truth is, the only thing about that episode I have remembered since I was 8 years old is that damn light bulb. It haunted me at the time. In later years, the memory of it haunted me. And in more recent times, it still gnaws at my mind, because it was still one of the few things that were unavailable for re-visiting. There was a copy in some TV museum on the East Coast, and a few of the other episodes turned up on YouTube, but “Side Show” remained only a memory.
Until I was looking for something else on YouTube last night and found out that a year or so ago, someone had added a few Way Out episodes. Including “Side Show”.
It’s a weird thing, revisiting a past that has been just beyond your reach for decades.
I was surprised there was an actual plot to the episode. Because all I’d remembered was the light bulb.