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‘Insight: The Series – A Hollywood Priest’s Groundbreaking Contribution to Television History’ (review)

Written by Mark A. Villano 
Published by Bear Manor Media


What if I told you there was an anthology television series that ran for more than two decades and featured stars the likes of Walter Matthau, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Beau Bridges, Patty Duke, Albert Brooks, Lou Gossett, Gene Hackman, Mark Hamill, Marlo Thomas, Ellen Burstyn, and Martin Sheen?

LOTS of Martin Sheen!

What if I told you that its writers included Michael Crichton, William Peter Blatty, and Rod Serling?

Most folks would have no clue as the series aired at odd times—often the middle of the night—in some markets and didn’t air at all in others. The show was called Insight, and it was a religious program, sometimes described as a “theological Twilight Zone.”

I, myself, am not and have never been a religious person but I was a big fan of Insight when I ran across it back in the day because most of its hundreds of episodes were so well-written, sometimes oddly cast, and didn’t tend to hit you over the head with a “message.”

I’ve renewed my interest in Insight over the past couple of years as a great many of the episodes—and even some new behind-the-scenes interviews—have turned up in mostly beautiful prints on YouTube.

Thus, I would seem to be the perfect audience for Bear Manor’s new book, Insight: the Series– A Hollywood Priest’s Groundbreaking Contribution to Television History by Mark A. Villano.

The book has a striking cover that depicts many of the great stars who lent their talents to Insight during its run. The Foreword, a repurposed and partly rewritten article from 2009 by Mark Quigley of the UCLA Film and Television Archive, is informative, detailing the creation of the concept by showrunner Father Ellwood Kieser and how the episodes had been long stored in the basement of the house where 1930s comedienne Thelma Todd had come to her tragic end.

The author himself gives us only four pages before getting to the beginning of the long Episodes section. A little surprising but the episodes are really what I’m here for, looking to supplement my watching of episodes online. Unfortunately, this is also where the problems begin.

What follows is a nearly 200-page section listing the number of each episode, its title, its producer, director, and (sometimes) writer, its stars, and a brief paragraph or two on the episode’s plot. A number of the episode listings also quote Father Kieser’s on-screen commentary verbatim. On rare occasion, there are brief comments from some of the directors or actors, such as Jamie Farr, Marion Ross, and Marta Kristen. Some great and often unusual photos are shown throughout, as well.

That’s what’s there.

aWhat’s missing, oddly, is any kind of “insight” into the episodes themselves. We aren’t generally told which actors played what characters, of which part of the fun was the unusual casting in these shows, with actors doing parts no mainstream productions would have cast them in. And what about sections on actors like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr, Harold Gould, Martin Sheen, and the then-married duo, Patty Duke and John Astin, who returned to the series again and again and again.

In my opinion, the versatile Gould’s best work appears on Insight!

Still, those are things I, personally, would like to have seen, not necessarily requirements for the author to have included. His cardinal sin in a book like this, however—pun intended—was to somehow have come up with an incomplete list of episodes!

When actor Paul Sorvino recently died, I watched an Insight episode in which he co-starred with voice actress Noelle North. Wanting to see if the book had anything to say about the episode, I looked up Sorvino in the Index. No listing. Noelle North is listed but only for the second episode she was in.

Randomly, I looked up another episode I had recently watched, which starred former Marcia, Maureen McCormick. She is not in the Index, either. Both of those episodes are listed on IMDB as being from 1979. I double-checked the book’s section on episodes from 1979—nothing. I thought perhaps my PDF copy had some pages missing but no. Those episodes are simply not included.

The odds of the exact two episodes I checked being the only missing ones are pretty high. I suspect there may be others. Sadly, this renders the book useless as any kind of complete guide to enjoying the episodes. I do recommend you check out Insight episodes on YouTube but I am extremely disappointed to say I cannot recommend this book.


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