Lights Out is an American old-time radio program devoted mostly to horror and the supernatural.
Created by Wyllis Cooper and then taken over by Arch Oboler, versions of Lights Out aired on different networks, at various times, from January 3, 1934 to the summer of 1947 and the series eventually made the transition to television. Lights Out was one of the earliest radio horror programs, predating Suspense and Inner Sanctum.
In 1946, NBC Television brought Lights Out to TV in a series of four specials, broadcast live and produced by Fred Coe, who also contributed three of the scripts. NBC asked Cooper to write the script for the premiere, "First Person Singular", which is told entirely from the point of view of an unseen murderer who kills his obnoxious wife and winds up being executed. Variety gave this first episode a rave review ("undoubtedly one of the best dramatic shows yet seen on a television screen"), but Lights Out did not become a regular NBC-TV series until 1949.
Coe initially produced this second series but, for much of its run, the live 1949-1952 program was sponsored by appliance maker Admiral, produced by Herbert Bayard Swope, Jr., directed by Laurence Schwab, Jr., and hosted by Frank Gallop. Critical response was mixed but the program was successful for several seasons (sometimes appearing in the weekly lists of the ten most watched network shows) until competition from the massively popular sitcom I Love Lucy on CBS helped to kill it off.
The 1949-1952 series featured scripts by a variety of authors, including a young Ira Levin. In 1951, producer Swope even bought a few stories from Cooper and Oboler. "Dead Man's Coat," starring Basil Rathbone, was adapted from one of Cooper's 1930s plays (and not to be confused with his Quiet, Please episode "Wear the Dead Man's Coat" with which it shares a similar premise). Oboler's "And Adam Begot," adapted by Ernest Kinoy from a radio play, starred Kent Smith. Among the young actors employed was Leslie Nielsen, who appeared in several episodes including "The Lost Will of Dr. Rant," based on "The Tractate Middoth", an M. R. James story. These and many others are available on DVD.
Other notable guest stars included Ann Bancroft, Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Anthony Quinn, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Lake, John Forsythe, Boris Karloff, Beatrice Straight, Eli Wallach, Vincent Price, Jane Wyatt, and Jack Palance.
Notable directors included Delbert Mann and Fred Coe.
In 1972, NBC aired yet another TV incarnation of Lights Out, a TV movie pilot which was not well received. In fact, Oboler (who was then syndicating his The Devil and Mr. O radio show) announced publicly that he had nothing to do with it.
In 1995, the network announced it was developing a TV movie and "potential miniseries" called Lights Out which, it was stressed, was "not being adapted from the radio series." Although Oboler retained the rights to his radio scripts, NBC still owns the rights to the series' title.
Despite its modest television success, radio historian John Dunning suggested that the legend of Lights Out is firmly rooted in radio.