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.
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.
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
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?
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.”
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?
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.
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
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” goes the opening line of “Sympathy for the Devil.” An introduction is especially important if you’re a Twilight Zone fan. After all, the fifth dimension is home to no fewer than four different people claiming to be the Prince of Lies.
But which Beelzebub is best? That’s up to you. Not that it’ll be an easy choice. Each performance is a solid one, making this a diabolically difficult decision. In chronological order, we have …
Thomas Gomez (“Escape Clause” — November 6, 1959)
He may be going by the name “Cadwallader,” but when his newest
sucker client says, “You’re the Devil,” Gomez’s character gives a wicked grin and replies, “At your service.” You want immortality? Just sign the dotted line, relinquish your soul … and enjoy. Read the rest of this entry
“From a science-fiction standpoint, space has been conquered.”
I did a double-take when I read that sentence. Michael Doran, managing editor of the pop-culture site Newsarama, was theorizing why the producers of the new Fantastic Four movie decided to drop the original space-based explanation of how the quartet gained its powers.
In other words, we may have more to explore in real life, but a space setting in science fiction? Been there, done that.
He may be onto something, but I’m glad to say I’m not that jaded. Maybe if I immersed myself more in the genre, I’d feel differently, but space still has a pull on my imagination. And I think it always will. Read the rest of this entry
Imagine James Bond in The Twilight Zone. Hard to do, isn’t it? Even if you enjoy both, spy thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy stories blend about as well as tuxedos and tennis shoes.
Yet with a new Mission: Impossible movie hitting movie theaters, it’s worth highlighting the one episode of The Twilight Zone that inhabits the cloak-and-dagger world: “The Jeopardy Room” — and pointing out the surprising fact that it developed from a premise that Rod Serling had for a whole new series about spies.
His proposal to CBS in 1963 (in the wake of the hit James Bond movie “From Russia With Love”) described a show simply titled The Chase. Serling wanted it to focus on a secret government agency, directed by a Bondian spy named McGough, that would handle sensitive “international involvements”.
McGough would be a “quiet, taciturn, unheroic kind of man — calculating, predatory, and deadly efficient because the nature of his job requires these traits and nothing more,” Serling wrote. He continued: Read the rest of this entry
Space travel, as any Twilight Zone fan can tell you, obviously held keen interest for Rod Serling. Stories about what would happen if we went Up There, or aliens came Down Here, cropped up throughout the entire run of the hit series.
Tantalizingly enough, Serling’s plans for Season 6 pointedly mentioned his interest in featuring more outer-space tales. Alas, it was never to be. And by the time man landed on the moon in 1969, Serling was focused on bringing a trilogy of horror stories to TV. Only one teleplay in the entire run of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery” dealt with space travel.
So a nice surprise awaited me several years ago when I bought a used copy of the first “Night Gallery” book (“Night Gallery 2” followed a year later). Then out of print, this paperback boasted prose versions of some of Serling’s screenplays from the first season, so I was naturally eager to see how he transitioned them to the printed page. Read the rest of this entry
“The zenith of this film is when he meets his mother and father,” Serling once said of “Walking Distance,” a true Twilight Zone classic. “That’s when everything explodes.”
Indeed it does. But for me, the nucleus of this bittersweet tale is the all-too-brief discussion Martin Sloan has with his “pop” shortly before his journey back in time concludes. So as a Father’s Day tribute, I’d like to bring you that touching scene:
MR. SLOAN: Yes, I know. I know who you are. I know you’ve come from a long way from here. A long way and a long time. But I don’t understand how or why. Do you?
MR. SLOAN: But you do know other things, don’t you, Martin? Things that will happen.
MARTIN: Yes, I do. Read the rest of this entry
Anyone who’s perused my list of least-favorite Twilight Zone episodes knows I don’t really care for “Cavender is Coming,” in which Carol Burnett stars as a bumbling young lady in need of a guardian angel. But I can’t deny the charm of these behind-the-scenes pictures of her with Rod Serling.
I think it’s because they underscore a lesser-known facet of Serling’s personality: his sense of humor. As any TZ fan will tell you, part of the appeal of the series is hearing him, on-screen and off, addressing us in his famous tight-lipped way, grimly confiding the fate of that episode’s protagonist.
He was so chillingly effective at telling us how stories unfolded “… in the Twilight Zone” that it’s easy to be surprised when we learn how much he enjoyed a good joke. Read the rest of this entry
Those of us who weren’t alive when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 know what a horrendous and brutal crime it was. But it can be hard for us to grasp just how deeply this tragic event shocked the nation.
Leave it to Rod Serling to put it into perspective for us. As his daughter Anne once noted on her blog:
“After President Kennedy’s assassination, my father wrote something perhaps intended as a letter to a newspaper or magazine editor. It was written on his letterhead and clearly typed by him, not his secretary.” It read:
Read the rest of this entry