Rod Serling, “Hogan’s Heroes” and Bob Crane

If Rod Serling didn’t like something, you were going to hear about it. And he hated Hogan’s Heroes.

So you might conclude that Serling also BobCrane_Portraitdisliked its main star, Bob Crane. On the contrary, they enjoyed a friendship that began before the show and continued after it was over.

I knew that Crane, who first came to fame as a radio host, had appeared (voice only) as an announcer in The Twilight Zone‘s “Static”. I also knew that Crane had interviewed Serling on his radio show several times (most notably about “The Shelter”, which you can listen to here), and that he’d starred (post-Hogan’s Heroes) in Night Gallery‘s “House—With Ghost”). Read the rest of this entry

“You’ve Just Crossed Over Into … The Twilight Zone”

Twilight Zone marathons always bring an influx of new followers to my Twitter page, and this year’s extravaganza on Syfy was no exception. About 500 additional fans joined in the fifth-dimensional festivities, enough for me to break the 14,000-follower mark.

If you’re one of them, welcome! I thought a quick orientation post might help.

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“A Stop at Willoughby”

Why? Well, sometimes people express surprise that I tweet about anything other than The Twilight Zone. Some, in fact, are surprised that I tweet at all when there isn’t a marathon on.

But I didn’t create my Twitter page simply to live-tweet TZ marathons. I did it to share quotes and facts from ALL of Rod Serling’s works, and to do it year-round. They’re primarily from The Twilight Zone, of course — that’s his crowning achievement. But I also draw from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (the horror series that followed TZ), as well as Serling’s pre-TZ teleplays, movies and books. Read the rest of this entry

George Clayton Johnson, Writer of “Wisdom Fiction”

I’ve written a blog post about Richard Matheson and his Twilight Zone episodes. I’ve written one about Charles Beaumont. I’ve even written one about Earl Hamner. And Heaven knows I’ve written plenty about Rod Serling.

But I’ve never written one about George Clayton Johnson. And now the news of his death at 86 is making me wish I had done so much sooner.

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True, I did spotlight one of his wonderful TZ episodes before now, “A Game of Pool” (twice, in fact – here and here). But no post yet about “Nothing in the Dark”? “Kick the Can”? “A Penny For Your Thoughts”? There’s hardly a Twilight Zone fan out there who doesn’t list at least one of those classics among his favorite episodes. Read the rest of this entry

Why CBS Finally Took a Gamble on Twilight Zone

Imagine you found yourself transported back in time to December 6, 1941. It’s the day before Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

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There you are, near the attack site, surrounded by people who have no idea what the next day will bring. Can you warn them without sounding crazy?

That’s the dilemma Pete Jenson faces. He’s been dreaming every night that he’s back there … only it’s not a dream, he tells his psychiatrist. He’s really going back.

Sound like a plot stolen from a Twilight Zone episode? Not exactly. I’m describing “The Time Element”, an episode of CBS’s Desilu Playhouse. It aired on November 24, 1958, the year before TZ debuted. And it was written by Rod Serling. Read the rest of this entry

“The Season To Be Wary”: A Night Gallery Book

In his last interview, Rod Serling said he wanted to be remembered simply as a “writer.” There’s little doubt that he achieved that. Countless authors cite him as one of their primary influences.

Yet nearly all of his fans experience his words via a TV screen, not the printed page. How many of us have enjoyed a book by Serling?

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True, that wasn’t his typical medium. He was famous for dictating scripts in a hurry by the poolside, not fiddling with some florid prose in a quiet study. Small wonder that the few books he did author were out of print for years.

That changed in 2014 when Rod Serling Books republished several volumes that almost any fan of the fifth dimension will want to check out. Each one merits its own post, but today I want to focus on one that should interest any Night Gallery aficionado: “The Season To Be Wary.” Read the rest of this entry

Séances and Surrealism: Another Night Gallery Tour

Come in, everyone. Glad you could make it. Ready to see some lovely, flower-filled meadows? Contemplate a few peaceful, rustic landscapes?

Sorry to hear that. Because you’ve entered … the Night Gallery.

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As founder Rod Serling once said, “In this particular salon, we choose our paintings with an eye more towards terror than technique.” That explains the dark, dusty halls. The chilly drafts that whistle down the corridors. The long shadows that offer numerous hiding places for … well, let’s get started. The night won’t last forever.

Perhaps you joined us on our first tour of the Night Gallery. You may have even tagged along for round two. If so, I can understand why you’re glancing around nervously. But remember, fright doesn’t always take a familiar form. Tonight’s selections prove that there is as much to dread in the brightest day as in the darkest night.

So without further ado, here are 10 more sinister selections for your enjoyment (click on any title to watch the episode it’s part of on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Brief Journey to the Videotape Zone

“This episode looks funny. Was it broadcast live?”

Hardly a Twilight Zone marathon goes by without at least one or two people tagging my Twitter page with a question like that. And when they do, it’s because they’re watching one of six episodes from Season 2: “The Lateness of the Hour”, “The Night of the Meek”, “The Whole Truth”, “Twenty Two”, “Static” or “Long Distance Call”.

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The reason they “look funny”? They were videotaped, not filmed.

Why? Let’s turn to the oracle we all use at some point when we’re doing “research” — Wikipedia. Its entry for “The Whole Truth” notes: Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”: A Knock-Out

When we think of The Twilight Zone, we naturally picture alien contact, time travel and other mind-bending occurrences. But if TZ offered little more than weirdness, would it have become such a classic? Would we be eagerly watching marathons decades later?

I don’t think so. A crucial element beats beneath its supernatural surface, one that helped make it a legend: a heartfelt concern for the little people.

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Think of Henry Bemis, the mild-mannered bank teller who just wants time to read. Or Al Denton, the alcoholic gunslinger tormented by memories of a lethal shootout. Or Henry Corwin, the sad-sack Santa who longs to help the people in his poverty-stricken neighborhood.

The list goes on, but they all started with a man who made his debut on Playhouse 90 on October 11, 1956: Harlan “Mountain” McClintock.

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Mountain takes center stage in “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” a live TV play that earned Rod Serling his second Emmy. “Patterns” had turned him into the proverbial overnight success, but a few middling follow-up dramas left some critics wondering if he was a flash in the pan. “Requiem” proved he was no one-hit wonder. Read the rest of this entry

Finding a Second Chance in the Fifth Dimension

Few Twilight Zone fans are surprised to see episodes like “Nick of Time” and “Eye of the Beholder” on my personal top 10 list. But “A Passage for Trumpet”? Where did that come from?

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Not a typical favorite, to be sure. But the part of my brain that enjoys homicidal dolls and dystopian futures sits right next to a strong sentimental streak. In short, I love the redemptive side of TZ.

Something about seeing some poor individual who thinks his existence is pointless learning that he has worth and value really touches my heart. You can bet a marathon programmed by me would include “The Changing of the Guard”, “Night of the Meek” and “Mr. Denton on Doomsday.”

“A Passage for Trumpet” certainly falls into this category. So I wanted to take a moment to highlight it before World Suicide Prevention Month comes to a close. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Imitators Miss a Key Reason for His Success

Why do so many attempts to emulate Rod Serling fail? People have tried over the years to duplicate the success of “The Twilight Zone,” and it nearly always falls flat. Why?

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Many writers and producers make the mistake of assuming that a weird story, or a clever twist, is all you need. But as I’ve tried to show in several previous blog posts, it’s not that simple.

And I recently read something that reminded me of another major reason Serling succeeded: his optimism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Serling was a realist who leveled some devastating social critiques throughout his career. The author of “The Shelter“, “Deaths-Head Revisited” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” clearly wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses.

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But unlike many modern writers, he clearly intended to pull us back from our worst excesses. A man who saw unspeakable horror in World War II, saw the Cold War at its hottest, and lived through a time of high-profile assassinations, knew that while men and women possess a lamentable capacity for evil, they also have a capacity for good. Read the rest of this entry

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