When you hear Roald Dahl, you probably think first of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, but he wasn’t always a children’s author. Dahl was also a fighter pilot and a spy, and before he wrote for children, he was well known as an author of horror.
His talent for horror landed him a job creating a television show for CBS in 1961. They’d had a huge flop with You're in the Picture, a game show that lasted only one episode, and needed to fill the time slot fast. After deciding they wanted something spooky, they rang Dahl and asked him whether he’d be interested in attempting to fill it.
They set it up much like the successful The Twilight Zone, with Dahl taking the Rod Sterling role, smoking like a chimney (thanks to product placement) the entire time. He gave a short introduction to each episode, the story played out, delving into morality with a dose of the paranormal and a twist ending, then Dahl would return to wrap up.
You might assume that Roald Dahl wrote the episodes, since his storytelling skills inspired CBS to call him in the first place… but you would be wrong. Only the initial episode, “William and Mary”, was adapted from one of his stories, and, honestly, the writers they used for the remaining run of 14 episodes never lived up to the much more successful series, The Twilight Zone.
In “William and Mary”, a controlling ass of a husband dies, but devises a plot to keep his brain alive after death so that he can continue to keep a watchful eye on his wife. Mary, now liberated, smokes, drinks, wears lipstick, and plays cards with her friends … none of which William can do anything about, since he has no mouth or body with which to object. The creepy episode ends with Mary blowing smoke into William’s helpless robotic eye. Oops.
The stories only got weirder, in the most delicious way. In “The Croaker”, a man bent on turning a town’s resident into frogs recruits the help of a young boy, only to find the kid has some pretty off-the-wall plans of his own.
In “Side Show,” a man in a circus audience falls in love with a woman with a light bulb for a head, only to get a pretty big surprise when he frees her; in “False Face,” an actor uses a deformed homeless man as a model for a character, then can’t get free of the Quasimodo-like makeup.
No matter the tale, fate displayed its twisted sense of humor in Way Out.
Though the stories were solid, production value high, and Dahl an amazing host, the ratings floundered; the show was axed after a single season. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl’s gruesome sense of irony or of The Twilight Zone, you should definitely check it out. Though the series has never been formally released (The Paley Center for Media controls the entire collection), you can still find a number of full episodes on YouTube.