Buckley was born in Limestone, Maine to parents Betty Bob (née Diltz), a dancer and journalist, and Ernest Buckley, a lieutenantcolonel in the U.S. Air Force and later a college professor and dean of engineering. Buckley grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, studied history at the University of Texas at Arlington before moving to California where he would later graduate from the University of Southern California. In spite of initial disapproval from his father, who wanted him to become a civil engineer like himself and Buckley's two brothers, Norman Buckley attended the film school at the University of Southern California. He intended to become a writer, but was encouraged to take up a craft, in addition to writing, and he soon discovered he had a natural aptitude for film editing.
Buckley is most known for his directing work on the television series Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl. In late 2011 he directed his first movie for Lifetime The Pregnancy Project. He began his career as an assistant editor on the 1983 film Tender Mercies, which featured his sister, actress Betty Buckley, who helped him land the job after hearing that the film's editor was seeking a local assistant while on location in Waxahachie, Texas. The editor was pleased with Buckley's work and took him to New York to begin his career. Since then, he has worked on many films, television series and made-for-TV movies as an editor. He landed a job —as both an editor and director on The O.C. due to his connections with Stephanie Savage and McG, after working with them on the television series Fastlane. His co-editor on the series, Matt Ramsey, had previously been Buckley's editing assistant but was promoted to co-editor when Josh Schwartz initially offered Buckley the job on The O.C.. Following The O.C.'s conclusion, Buckley followed Schwartz to direct and edit his next projects, Gossip Girl and Chuck.
Aside from editing, he has ventured into producing only once, in 1999 on the film Happy, Texas. He has directed episodes on various television series: The O.C., Gossip Girl,Chuck, Greek, Melrose Place, 90210, Privileged, The Middleman, Make It or Break It, Pretty Little Liars, The Client List, The Carrie Diaries, Rizzoli and Isles, Switched At Birth, Hart of Dixie, and the Josh Schwartz webseries Rockville, CA. His episode of The O.C. titled "The Metamorphosis" was chosen by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of the five best episodes of the series. His episode of Gossip Girl titled "The Handmaiden's Tale" was chosen by Newsweek magazine as one of the ten best television episodes of 2007.
His only acting credit is a minor role in Solomon & Sheba, a part he only landed because was editing another project in Morocco, and the producers shooting Solomon & Sheba did not want to fly in other English-speaking actors to play minor parts. He agreed to do it only as a lark.
Buckley has been nominated twice for an American Cinema Editors award: in 2003, for Joe and Max, for Best Edited Motion Picture for Non-Commercial Television; and in 2008, for the pilot for Chuck, for Best Edited One-Hour Series for Commercial Television. He won the latter award at the ACE banquet on February 17, 2008.
He has been an assistant visiting professor in the film school at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Buckley has a sister, Tony Award-winning actress Betty Buckley, and two brothers, Patrick and Michael. His two brothers became engineers, a profession his father thought more worthy than any job in the film industry, although Buckley has stated: "Fortunately, my father expressed his pride in my accomplishments before he died."
Buckley is openly gay. In September 2008, Buckley married Davyd Whaley during a brief window of legal opportunity in the state of California, and remained legally married up to Whaley's death on October 15, 2014.