Some Insight into TV's "Insight" and the Terrific New Book by Mark A. Villano

Herbie J Pilato
[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

The name of the show is Insight, and though it originally aired in the 1960s, the 1970s, and 1980s, this amazing program remains one of the most unique television series ever created. It was The Twilight Zone with a spiritual twist that featured an A-list of guest stars, writers, and directors. At the heart of it all was its mainstay creative force behind the scenes:

The Rev. Ellwood Kieser, an Emmy Award-winning Roman Catholic priest who blended religious commitment with a passion for making socially aware film and television.

Sadly, Father Kieser succumbed in 2001 to cancer at only 71 years old.

PBS is now airing the new documentary: Hollywood Priest: The Story of Father ‘Bud’ Kaiser (see this link and check your local listings for airdates and times).

Meanwhile, too, author Father Mark A. Villano has picked up where Father Kieser left off, and lovingly written the long over-due companion book to Fr. Kieser’s groundbreaking Insight TV series.

Below is the transcription of a brief conversation I had with Fr. Milano as to how his beautiful book about the amazing TV series came into being:

HJP: How did you get interested in Insight?

FMM: Fr. Ellwood "Bud" Kieser founded a television and film company called “Paulist Productions.” I worked there for a short time as a development director, long after the Insight series ran. I knew about it but hadn’t actually seen any of the episodes. When Paulist Productions started putting the shows online a couple of years ago, I started watching and was amazed at what the series was trying to accomplish. Here was an interesting, well-written, and well-acted anthology series that dealt with personal, social, and spiritual issues. Although it was dated in some ways (and sometimes cringingly so), in other ways it was very relevant, astutely dealing with issues human beings are always struggling with. I wanted to learn more. As I watched episodes online, I saw that there was still a fan base among people who remembered the show and appreciated how it attracted great talent from the TV world of that day. I thought that people would appreciate a fan book that gave background on the 23-year history of this unique series.

HJP: How long did it take you to write the book?

FMM: I've been watching and researching the show for about a year and a half. I talked to people who knew Fr. Kieser and read other articles and reviews of the series, as well as Kieser's autobiography. Mark Quigley, the Television Archivist at the UCLA Film and TV Archive, was a big help since he has a passion for preserving the show and loved talking about his experience "rescuing" the original tapes. David Moore, a producer at Paulist Productions was an amazing colleague since he was in the process of hunting down and digitizing all the episodes for their Youtube channel and kept me in the loop as new episodes became available. Fr. Tom Gibbons, the Vice President of Paulist Productions, was also doing a number of interviews with people who worked on the series, and they were helpful. Then I discovered the online library of Television Academy interviews and found a number of actors, writers, and directors who mentioned their experiences with Insight. Actually watching all the episodes was a pleasure. It was a lesson on television history over those years.

HJP: Do you have any favorite episodes?

FMM: Many! If I had to pick a few, I’d include Michael Crichton’s “The War of the Eggs,” starring Bill Bixby and Elizabeth Ashley, depicting an intense conversation between a husband and wife that unfolds in a hospital waiting room. It gives an example of the modest production values of the show while showcasing the emotional power of the writing, acting, and directing. I find some of the fantasy episodes fascinating, like Jack Hanrahan’s “Old King Cole” or John Zodrow’s “All Out.” They show how the show was always open to finding new ideas and genres to explore. Lan O’Kun wrote a number of episodes and one I like very much is “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down” starring Martin Sheen and Jack Albertson. It's like a church homily in dramatic form. Fr. Kieser also wrote several episodes and the one that stands out to me is “God in the Dock,” starring Della Reese and Richard Beymer.

Click here to order the new book about the "Insight" TV series

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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