What if you could change the past — not just in your personal life, but on a global scale by stopping something horrible?
That’s the central conceit of Twilight Zone‘s “No Time Like the Past,” and it’s an intriguing one. I’ll give it a full review at a later date, but for now, I want to focus on one scene in particular. Even if you’re not a fan of this episode (and not many fans give it high marks), I think we can appreciate what Rod Serling was saying — or more accurately, condemning — about halfway through the story.
For those who haven’t seen it (check here if you want to see how to watch it first), or haven’t seen it in a while, the story concerns a man named Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews). He has a time-travel machine, and to his credit, he wants to help mankind, not just himself. So he travels back to three key moments earlier in the 20th century: the day Hiroshima, Japan, was bombed; a day when Adolf Hitler made a pre-World War II public appearance in Berlin, Germany; and the day the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed, one of the events that led the U.S. to enter World War I.
Driscoll’s intention is to stop these events. He’s convinced that the modern world, which he detests, could be changed for the better if he succeeds. Yet each time he fails. Convinced the past can’t be changed, he decides instead to go to a quiet little town called Homeville, Indiana, in 1881, to live out the rest of his life.Read the rest of this entry
“Do as much — or as little — as necessary.”
A boss of mine told me that once. My job as an editor entailed taking articles written by technical experts and rendering them into layman-friendly English. Some of these experts were terrible writers. Others were quite good. Many were in between.
The trick was not to do less than you had to, but also not to do more. If it was a solid piece, don’t do a rewrite job simply to justify your existence. Leave the good stuff intact.
I don’t know if anyone expressly taught that lesson to Rod Serling, but he clearly understood it. In my series of posts exploring his Twilight Zone scripts adapted from other writers’ work, I’ve seen stories where he did a lot, ones where he did a little, and others that fall somewhere in the middle.
This time I’m taking a closer look at a real fan favorite from Season 1: “The Hitch-Hiker.” It provides an excellent example of Serling knowing when to stay out of the way.
Oh, he made some changes, as we’ll see — some rather key ones. But the story that unfolds before our eyes is very close to what unfolded before people’s ears when this tale first aired on radio almost 20 years earlier. (Spoilers ahead, so, if you need to, go here for ways you can see the episode first.)Read the rest of this entry
Remember Talky Tina? If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you do. The sweet-talking doll with the homicidal tendencies made quite an impression when she appeared early in Season 5.
Part of what makes Tina scary is that she’s nothing like Chucky or the other murderous playthings you may have seen on the big screen. She doesn’t run. You don’t see her waving a weapon around. She doesn’t even raise her voice. Heck, you can take a table saw to her neck, and she’ll act like you’re tickling her.
Erich Streator (Telly Savalas) learned too late how dangerous Tina could be. As the episode ends, even his gentle wife, Annabelle (that’s right, the name of the haunted doll in the Conjuring movies!) is being put on notice by her daughter Christie’s terrifying toy.
There’s really just one person with no reason to fear Tina: Christie. Indeed, Tina is her champion — to a fault.
So let’s get to know a little bit about Tracy Stratford, the girl who played Christie. This wasn’t her first appearance on The Twilight Zone. She’d already starred in another fan favorite: Season 3’s “Little Girl Lost.” Yep, she was the girl who fell out of bed and rolled into another dimension.
And interestingly enough, her character’s name in that episode … was Tina.
Here are some excerpts from an interview Tracy gave in 2018 about her unforgettable journey to that land between shadow and substance:Read the rest of this entry
I knew it was only a matter of when. But I was hoping that the legendary TV show that made time travel look possible would be streaming on Netflix for a lot longer.
Alas, The Twilight Zone is set to leave the streaming giant on June 30.
Check them out if you want to understand why the show is leaving Netflix. The fact is, this is most likely the decision of CBS, which owns Twilight Zone.
Sure, Netflix could be dropping TZ to save on licensing fees. But more likely, it’s a matter of CBS making it so that people have to subscribe to Paramount+ (formerly CBS All-Access) to get their fifth-dimensional fix.
I’m sure some fans will point out that TZ is still widely available — not only on Hulu, but on high-def DVD and Blu-ray. Plus you can catch reruns (albeit with cut scenes and ad breaks) on MeTV and Syfy.
That’s great — don’t get me wrong. But I want TZ to be as available as possible. As I’ve said before, convenience is king. And if any show, even TZ, isn’t readily available, then many viewers won’t make any extra effort to find it.Read the rest of this entry
It’s a question I hear fairly often from Twilight Zone fans: Why doesn’t Netflix stream Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?
You click the drop-down menu, and you see Seasons 1, 2, and 3 listed … and then 5. What gives?
I’ve seen a lot of guesses on Facebook and head-scratching on Twitter, so let’s just cut to the real reason. It’s not because Netflix couldn’t get the rights to Season 4 or anything like that. It’s simply that they don’t want to pay for what is arguably TZ’s least-popular season.
Season 4, for those who aren’t already aware, is when The Twilight Zone began producing hour-long episodes. Eighteen of them (about half the length of a typical season back then) aired between January 3, 1963 and May 23, 1963. For Season 5, TZ reverted to the half-hour format that had served it so well during its first three seasons.
Whether you’re a fan of Season 4 or not (opinions vary widely in the Zone community), even those who like at least some of the hour-long episodes can’t deny that TZ was best-suited to the shorter-running time. It’s the 30-minute tales that are seared in our memory. So that’s what Netflix has decided to pay for.
For that to make sense, it’s important to know that streaming providers who want to carry a particular series have to pay a licensing fee to the owners of that series in order to do so. In the case of The Twilight Zone, the owner is CBS. So if Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime want to stream TZ, they must pay what is, in essence, a rental fee to CBS. Both sides negotiate a price and a time frame. When that time is up, they can extend it or end it.Read the rest of this entry
Not every Twilight Zone episode was a Rod Serling original. Many of them were, but two dozen of his 92 Zone scripts were based on stories by other authors.
As I’ve shown throughout my “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the original stories to their Twilight Zone counterparts, sometimes Serling kept a substantial portion of what the author wrote. Other times, he kept only the basic idea and made so many changes that it became almost a new tale.
“The Old Man in the Cave,” which first aired on November 8, 1963, falls more into the latter category.
It’s the one about a man named Goldsmith (played by the ever-reliable John Anderson, in his fourth and final Zone role) who’s trying to keep a small band of survivors alive in a post-apocalyptic world — in the “tenth illustrious year after the bomb,” as one of them says. Yep, the Cold War obviously got hot and the nuclear holocaust happened. It’s now 1974, Serling tells us.
(As always, spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen this one before or it’s been a while, consider fixing that first, then coming back. This blog is open 24/7.)
So how does Goldsmith do it? With the help of an unnamed, unseen “old man” who appears to be a sort of oracle. He gives weather forecasts and makes crop recommendations to help the survivors avoid radioactivity. If anyone finds canned goods, he can tell whether or not they’re safe to eat. (Pro-tip: If it wasn’t canned “pre-bomb”, you might as well throw it out, no matter how ravenous you feel.)Read the rest of this entry
I don’t consider this blog merely a place to fan over Rod Serling’s work. It’s that, make no mistake! But every now and then, I like to ponder why his signature series was such a success. Specifically, what made The Twilight Zone work?
So when I came across this long quote from Buck Houghton, the man who worked hand in hand with Serling to produce the first three seasons of TZ, I knew I had to share it:
“The Twilight Zone is a world that allows for things to happen that do not happen in real life: fantasies operate, wishes are fulfilled, life‘s loose ends are tied up, frustrations are resolved, discontents are played out, dreams come true, magic asked for is delivered. Unbridled imagination, working to the benefit — or destruction — of commonplace people.
The challenge, for the writer, of creating a true Twilight Zone story is to stretch, bend, and otherwise distort reality so as to tantalize the viewer, but never so far that it can’t snap back into focus at the last minute to provide a recognizable and satisfying irony or insight.
Therefore, the writer walks a fine line, mixing reality and unreality without falling into an attempt merely to shock, or to propose outrageous situations to finally have nothing to say to us.Read the rest of this entry
Enjoy an Exclusive Tour of the New “Art of Darkness” Night Gallery Book with Co-Author Scott Skelton
It’s been a long time coming, Night Gallery fans, but “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness” — an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings — is finally here.
Regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about it before, both in a preview post last May, and in a post about how it was available to order a few months later. The book finally started rolling off the presses late last year. It took a while for it to get out — the pandemic did no one any favors, of course — but as anyone who’s received their copy can tell you, it was well worth the wait.
I recently asked co-author and Night Gallery expert Scott Skelton if he could join me for a short Q&A about the book. Scott, you may recall, joined me for a presentation at the 2019 Serling Fest, where we marked the 50th anniversary of the original Night Gallery movie. Here’s our conversation:
Paul: So the book is out and in just about everyone’s hands at last. Are you happy with how it turned out? From the outside, it looks like it was a bigger success than you were anticipating.
Scott: We’re all very pleased with the quality of the book, how well-designed it is, how respectful it is of the artistry that went into the making of these paintings. It surpasses many coffee-table art books I’ve seen in its savvy design and high publishing standards. Then again, almost all of us involved were die-hard fans of the show and its artwork, and Taylor White, the publisher, was the biggest fan of all. He spared no expense in creating this volume.Read the rest of this entry
I’ve heard quite a range of reactions to the news that Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone won’t be back for a third season. Some Zoniacs are sorry it won’t be back. Many more are glad. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.
This isn’t because I’m trying to be diplomatic. I’m genuinely ambivalent. There were elements I liked about the new version (one of which has nothing to do with the show itself). There were others I didn’t like. Most of them I touched on in previous posts about the series, and I summed them up after Season 1 in this one.
Curiously enough, the latest reboot wasn’t cancelled by the network, but by the creators themselves: Jordan Peele and his company, Monkeypaw Productions:
Why the kibosh on a third season? It’s hard to say, at least from the outside looking in. Maybe the pandemic made it difficult to get things rolling again. Perhaps they found themselves getting interested in other projects. Or it could be that we should take their statement at face value: They told their stories, it was fun, but now it’s time to move on.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if negative reaction to the series played a part in the decision. As you might imagine, I followed fan response pretty closely on social media, and every time the latest reboot came up, the opinions ran at least 80/20 against it. It may be that Peele and his collaborators were able to shrug this off, but hey, we’re human. I’d be surprised if that sort of negativity had no effect whatsoever.
So what went wrong? Let’s mention a couple of things that have come up previously, then get into some other factors we haven’t discussed before. Read the rest of this entry
Ever have one of those times when an actor from one of your favorite TV shows also appeared in one of your favorite movies, and it didn’t click for a long time?
I’m usually pretty good at spotting faces and coming up with a name right away: “Oh, that’s So-and-so. He starred in Such-and-such.” But while my memory — at least for show-biz faces — is above average, it’s not perfect.
Take “The Last Flight.” We all have some episodes of The Twilight Zone that aren’t particularly famous, but that really hit a sweet spot for us. That’s how I feel about this story, which concerns a World War I pilot who lands at a modern-day air base (well, modern in 1960, when the episode first aired) and discovers that he’s done some inadvertent time-traveling.
I’m also a huge fan of the Beatles. Seriously, I could run a blog about them, too. And one of the many films I can quote almost word-for-word is “A Hard Day’s Night.” It’s a lot of fun — very witty and comedic, and loaded with great tunes, of course.
So why did it take me so long to figure out that Kenneth Haigh, the actor who plays Lt. Decker in “The Last Flight,” also starred as Simon Marshall, the sardonic advertising executive who interviews George Harrison in “A Hard Day’s Night”?Read the rest of this entry