“The Hitch-Hiker”: The Origin of a Twilight Zone Classic

If you’re like most Twilight Zone fans, you’ve seen your favorite episodes more than once. Several times, most likely — perhaps a dozen or more for the real classics. But they never feel stale. Indeed, they seem to almost improve with each viewing.

And yet many of the episodes involve very simple stories. Name a favorite, from “Time Enough at Last” to “Eye of the Beholder“, and it’s almost guaranteed you can explain what happens in a sentence or two.

This, for me, illustrates just how creative the writers behind the show truly were. I mean, why should a couple feeding pennies into a table-top fortune teller (“Nick of Time”) turn out to be such compelling television?

Or take another fan favorite from Season 1: “The Hitch-Hiker”. Rod Serling adapted it from a radio play written by a woman named Lucille Fletcher — one that debuted almost 20 years before it became a Twilight Zone episode. Read the rest of this entry

From Tombstones to Extra-Terrestrials: A Closer Look at TZ’s Montgomery Pittman

I’ve written about Twilight Zone’s writers. I’ve written about its directors. So how about TZ’s only writer-director?

I’m referring to Montgomery Pittman. Don’t know him? I can guarantee you know his work. That is, if you’ve heard of a TZ episode called “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

No, Pittman didn’t write that one. Everyone’s favorite extra-terrestrial whodunit was penned by the incomparable Rod Serling, of course. Pittman also directed one other TZ ep scripted by a writer other than himself (Charles Beaumont’s “Dead Man’s Shoes”).

But the other three episodes he helmed were his own stories — memorable tales that many TZ fans list among their all-time favorites:

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Season 3, Episode 1 – September 15, 1961

At a time when TV scripts tended to be pretty talky (many early TV writers, after all, had gotten their start in radio, Serling included), this near-silent look at the aftermath of what appears to have been an all-out nuclear war shows the power of pictures. An American male soldier and a female Russian one somehow manage to put aside their suspicions and find peace amid the rubble.

For anyone who thinks of Charles Bronson only as a violent vigilante in “Death Wish”, or of Elizabeth Montgomery as a button-cute witch in “Bewitched”, this episode is an eye-opener. Pittman showed they were capable of much more.

Read the rest of this entry

Casting a Kanamit: Finding the Voice for a TZ Classic

No list of iconic Twilight Zones is complete without “To Serve Man”. Even people who have only a passing familiarity with the series know what Michael Chambers found out when the book that gives the episode its title was translated.

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Among the elements that stand out — besides that legendary twist ending, of course — are how the Kanamits look, and how they sound. Regal. Benevolent. Trustworthy.

Getting the right voice was crucial. Richard Kiel, who was filmed in such a way that he could play every Kanamit, had a chance to do it. But like David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, Kiel was destined to be only seen and not heard.

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“They had it in the contract that they could use someone else’s voice,” Kiel said, “but I was given a chance at it. I remember being very tired after hours and hours of makeup and filming, and I guess I didn’t do that great a job at it.” Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “Third From The Sun”

No wonder The Twilight Zone is such a classic. Most of the time, you were getting scripts written by the master himself, Rod Serling. And when it wasn’t him, it was often someone like Richard Matheson.

So I hardly think it’s a coincidence that “Third From The Sun” is such a highly rated episode. After all, you have the talents of both men at work here.

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That’s not to say they collaborated in the conventional sense. I mean that, as he did with “And When The Sky Was Opened“, Serling adapted one of Matheson’s short stories.

He took the title and the basic idea — and added all the usual Serling touches to turn it into a Zone classic. As Stephen King later said of what was only the 14th episode of the first season, “It marks the point at which many occasional tuners-in became addicts.”

(Spoilers ahead, naturally. The episode can be watched on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It’s also on DVD and Blu-ray.)

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Matheson’s story, which had first appeared in the October 1950 issue of Galaxy, is a marvel of economy. Virtually no extraneous details decorate this taut tale of a man and wife (and neighbors) determined to make their getaway from a world on the brink of all-out war.

Read the rest of this entry

SyFy’s New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

We really got spoiled last time around, didn’t we?

Fans of the Syfy Channel’s New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon were used to getting a solid two and a half days of the classic show — a random mix of about 87 episodes. But we got to ring in 2016 with all 156 of them, shown in high-definition and in their original broadcast order.

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Alas, Syfy won’t be doing that again for 2017. But it’s still a longer marathon than we’ve come to expect: 120 episodes. And no more breaks for wrestling or other “paid programming” to interrupt the fifth-dimensional flow.

Sure, I have some misgivings about the marathon, as I explain here. I don’t like the ads, and I *really* don’t like the way they’ve edited many of the episodes to accommodate those ads. For the best TZ experience, I strongly recommend watching it on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or iTunes. Better yet, buy or borrow it on DVD or Blu-ray. Read the rest of this entry

Fritz Weaver: “We Had Such Great Times In Those Days”

The Grim Reaper’s been busier than usual in 2016, alas. And recently, he caught up to someone that every Twilight Zone fan knows well: Fritz Weaver.

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Weaver, of course, had many notable roles throughout his career. But no list of his best work is complete without the villainous Chancellor in “The Obsolete Man” and sympathetic Will Sturka in “Third From The Sun”. The fact that he could so credibly portray a good guy in one episode, and a bad guy in the next, certainly shows his range.

So I thoughtobsolete-man that fans mourning his passing might enjoy some excerpts from an interview that appears in Stewart Stanyard’s “Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone“:

Q: What was your first experience with The Twilight Zone?

A: I was in New York, and my agent called me and said, “They want you to do a Twilight Zone,” and I said, “Do a what?” Because I hadn’t heard of it – I had been on the stage for about nine years. So I went out to do this “Third From the Sun” program, and it was my first film, in fact. And I had to learn the hard way; I had assumed it was all the same. I mean, acting is acting, right? It didn’t turn out that way. Read the rest of this entry

Fan of Black Mirror? Try These Twilight Zone Episodes

Have you watched Black Mirror? Heard it described as a modern-day Twilight Zone?

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For reasons I explained in a previous blog post, I can’t quite agree. Yes, they’re both trippy anthology series that take a hard look at the human condition. But there are some basic differences that — for me, at least — make the comparison ring hollow.

But I’ve said my piece. I’m bringing up Black Mirror today for a different reason. I’m writing this not so much for my fellow Serling fans as I am for anyone who’s watched Black Mirror, but not The Twilight Zone (or perhaps watched it a long time ago) and who’s wondering if some black-and-white series from the 1960s is worth checking out.

So my purpose here is simple: to recommend a few episodes that I think you, as a fan of Black Mirror, will enjoy — or at least find interesting. So without further ado … Read the rest of this entry

Give Peace a Chance: TZ’s “The Passersby” Presents Us with a War-Time Dilemma

Twist endings, of course, are a Twilight Zone staple, but not every episode concluded with a bang. Sometimes we experienced a slow-burn reveal — more of a dawning realization than a sudden shock.

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That’s certainly the case with “The Passersby”, the first of two Civil War-themed episodes that aired in TZ’s third season (prompted, no doubt, by the war’s centennial that year). Well before the final scene, we know that the hundreds of soldiers shuffling past Lavinia Godwin’s dilapidated house are no longer among the living.

But far from detracting from our enjoyment of this episode, the lack of a final-curtain surprise actually adds to it. It enhances the tone of Rod Serling’s story perfectly. (Spoilers ahead; if you haven’t seen this episode, or it’s been a while, you can watch it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.)

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I realize that my love of history probably causes me to rate this episode more highly than others might. But I’m convinced that much of my admiration for it flows from the elegiac beauty of Serling’s reminder that, when the guns fall silent, acceptance and healing must follow — or true peace is impossible. Read the rest of this entry

“In Praise of Pip”: TZ’s Bittersweet Season 5 Opener

To millions of Twilight Zone fans, Billy Mumy will forever be Anthony Fremont, the freckle-faced, pint-sized monster sending people to – gulp – the cornfield.


Many also recall him as the little boy whose grandmother phones from beyond the grave in “Long Distance Call”, or as “that kid from Lost in Space”. And I don’t blame them. Mumy certainly left his mark on some legendary roles.

It’s a shame, though, that they tend to overshadow his work on Serling’s “In Praise of Pip”, which first aired on September 27, 1963. The Season 5 opener is a sad but quietly beautiful portrait of love, regret, and second chances. Read the rest of this entry

“The Arrival”: A Twilight Zone Episode on Auto-Pilot

An airplane taxis down the runway, pulls up to its marker, and stops. Perfect landing.

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Well, it would have been perfect if anyone, including a pilot, had been on board. The plane is completely empty. You see, this is The Twilight Zone, and you’re watching Rod Serling’s “The Arrival”.

Things look very odd. And they’re about to get a whole lot odder.

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Opinions vary widely on Serling’s first episode of Season 3. Some people like it a lot. Others find it a mish-mash of strangeness, more mystified than mystifying. Read the rest of this entry