Serling’s Apology to Carol Burnett for Twilight Zone’s “Cavender is Coming”

Some Twilight Zone fans might give Season 3’s “Cavender is Coming” a passing grade, but good luck finding anyone who ranks it among their top favorites. Its critics included Rod Serling himself, who actually apologized to star Carol Burnett for how it turned out.

It’s true that Serling was notoriously hard on his own work, but he seemed particularly disappointed in this episode. As I’ll explain in greater detail in a future post, it was intended as a pilot for a new series that would have featured weekly appearances by co-star Jesse White. But when CBS passed on it, Serling wound up using it on the Twilight Zone.

Given his opinion of it, though, it’s a wonder he didn’t simply shelve it. As he told Burnett in a letter dated May 3, 1962 (three weeks and one day before the episode aired):

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Gremlins: A Look Into the Lore Behind Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “gremlins”?

Perhaps it’s the subcompact vehicles that became famous during the 1970s, dubbed “one of history’s dorkiest cars” by Motor Trend magazine. Maybe it’s the alternately cute or aggressive critters that populated the 1984 movie “Gremlins.”

Or, if you’re a big enough Twilight Zone fan, you might think of William Shatner and a furry creature on an airplane wing in Richard Matheson’s legendary “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

There was poor Bob Wilson, returning home from a stay in a sanitarium, and what does he glimpse outside his plane window? Let’s allow him to describe it — or at least try to. As he tells his incredulous wife:

“Julia, there’s a man out there. I don’t mean a man. I mean a … I don’t know what I mean. I mean … maybe a … what did they call them during the war? You know, the pilots. Gremlins. Gremlins! You remember the stories in the … Julia, don’t look at me like that.”

Most fans, of course, are focused on the story, so this brief reference to the term’s origins is more or less in one ear and out the other. But if you like behind-the-scenes stuff like I do, it’s interesting to read a bit about the original gremlins. What were those pilots seeing during the war?

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Twilight Zone’s “The Hunt”: A Remake of Earl Hamner’s “The Hound of Heaven”

You don’t have to own a dog to be a fan of Twilight Zone‘s “The Hunt,” but it sure helps.

Every time I tweet about this Season 3 episode, I hear from followers who are just as crazy about Fido as they are about the fifth dimension. They love this sentimental tale about a backwoods man named Hyder Simpson, a raccoon-chasing pooch named Rip (R.I.P, get it?), and an unexpected trip to the Pearly Gates.

“The Hunt was my first script for The Twilight Zone,” Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons, later said, “and it is probably my favorite.” He went on to write seven more Zone episodes, and although fans fondly remember a couple of them (such as “A Piano in the House” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town”), none seemed to strike the same deep chord that “The Hunt” did.

Perhaps that’s because it came from a very personal place.

“My father had a hunting dog he loved,” Hamner later recalled. “One night the dog ran away, and my father spent all night searching for him. It was part of the family, so when he found the dog the next morning, the animal was dead, and my father grieved.”

The incident clearly made an indelible impression on young Earl, judging from what we see in “The Hunt.” But not many Twilight Zone fans are aware that he wrote an earlier version of the story — and it was even televised.

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We’re Getting Closer to Having a Statue of Rod Serling in His Hometown — and You Can Help

What does Rod Serling mean to you?

Perhaps you’re a writer who finds his work inspiring. In fact, you may have even started writing in the first place because of Rod Serling. A lot of people who follow my Serling Twitter page tell me that.

Maybe you’re an actor or a producer whose imagination was sparked by The Twilight Zone, and your career path was lighted years ago by the man who penned such classics as “The Midnight Sun,” “Eye of the Beholder,” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” to name only a few of his many beloved scripts.

Or, like so many others, you simply enjoy science fiction and fantasy, and you can trace your love of the genre back to watching the Zone.

Whatever your particular circumstances, we share that bond: a love of Serling’s work, and a deep and abiding respect and admiration for the man himself. So let me ask you: Do you think he deserves to have a statue dedicated to him in his hometown of Binghamton, NY, home of the carousel that we see in “Walking Distance”?

I’m sure every Serling fan would agree that he merits such an honor. Well, I’m glad to say an effort to get such a statue made is underway now — and you can help.

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Can You Recall Which Twilight Zone Episodes Had a Mid-Point Narration?

For many Twilight Zone fans, Rod Serling’s narrations are the highlight of every episode. He’ll step in, usually after a short introductory scene, to enlighten us about the characters and hint at what lies ahead. Then he’ll return at the end and deliver a wry commentary on what we’ve just seen.

But on four occasions — three times in Season 1, and one time in Season 3 — he talks to us briefly before the episode concludes. Let’s take a quick look at these narrations and see what they tell us.

Walking Distance
Season 1, Episode 5
October 30, 1959

“Everyone thinks [The Twilight Zone] is a scary show, but it’s actually a beautiful show,” filmmaker J.J. Abrams once said. Although this quote covers the series as a whole, it clearly applies to “Walking Distance,” which Abrams singled out for praise on other occasions.

Serling’s penchant for nostalgia is on full display in this moving story about Martin Sloane, a corporate man run ragged by his high-pressure job. Badly in need of rest and a change of perspective, he makes an impulse visit to his hometown, only to find that everything is just as it was when he was growing up.

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Syfy’s 2022-2023 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Sure, it’s loaded with commercials. Yes, the episodes are edited, sometimes rather ham-handedly. And no one can deny they look better either streaming or on disc.

But for all of its obvious drawbacks, Syfy’s New Year’s Twilight Zone marathon is an annual fixture for a lot of fans — and tradition must be honored! (Besides, there still are some pros to watching TZ this way, as I list in this post.)

So without further ado, here’s the full schedule for you to bookmark and share, with a short list of pros and cons at the end. If you can’t get Syfy, or you’d rather watch some or all of it via streaming or disc on your own, you can use this to follow along as I live-tweet this soirée. So let’s see what we’ll be watching as we say goodbye to 2022 and hello to 2023:

December 31, 2022

5:00am – A Nice Place to Visit

5:30am – The Chaser

6:00am – The Bard

7:00am – The Long Morrow

7:30am – Mr. Garrity and the Graves

8:00am – The Trade-Ins

8:30am – Hocus-Pocus and Frisby

9:00am – Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

9:30am – A Kind of Stopwatch

10:00am – I Am the Night – Color Me Black

10:30am – The Changing of the Guard

11:00am – The Odyssey of Flight 33

11:30am – The Shelter

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Twilight Zone’s “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”: Debating the Ending of a Season 5 Classic

You’d expect Twilight Zone fans to disagree over which episodes are best. Tastes can vary widely in the fifth dimension. But sometimes we can’t even agree on what happened in the stories themselves.

For example, in Season 4’s “The New Exhibit,” who committed the murders, Martin or the wax figures? In Season 1’s “A World of Difference,” what’s the true identity of the character played by Howard Duff, Arthur Curtis or Gerald Raigan?

Those are just two instances I’ve written about. There are others. In each case, I was sure I knew the answer — indeed, I didn’t even think there was another option! — until I ran into some fellow fans who felt differently. It’s been a bit disconcerting to ponder other possibilities, but also rather intriguing, frankly.

So let’s queue up another debate. This one’s about Season 5’s “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” by Charles Beaumont and John Tomerlin. (For those who haven’t seen it or forget what happens, consider watching first and then coming back before wading into the spoiler-filled details ahead.)

I’ve written about this excellent, thought-provoking episode before (you’ll find a link below). My question today, though, is this: Did Marilyn finally just give up at the end and decide to embrace her new identity? Or do we see her gushing over her new appearance because the Transformation alters not only your body, but also your mind?

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An Expanded Edition of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” Will Soon Be on Exhibition

If you’re looking for a book about The Twilight Zone, you have several to choose from, starting with Marc Zicree’s seminal “Companion.” But if you want to read about Night Gallery, Serling’s follow-up series in the early ’70s, your choices are limited, really, to just one volume: “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour.”

Fortunately, it’s an excellent work. The copy I’ve owned for over two decades is a well-thumbed softcover autographed by co-author Scott Skelton (who I met when we did a presentation at Serling Fest 2019). It’s a treasure trove of information, and a great read. Scott and co-author Jim Benson dug into the archives and interviewed dozens of people who worked on both sides of the camera, and served up a highly entertaining slice of TV history.

When they followed that up a couple years ago with “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness,” an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings, I was in Gallery heaven. What could be better?

Oh, how about a new, expanded edition of Scott and Jim’s original book?

Usually, when an “expanded” edition of some book comes out, it means you get a new foreword, an afterword, or other mostly cosmetic improvements. Not this time. This new edition more than doubles the size of the previous one. The original was 404 pages; this one is 824. The original featured a limited number of pics, all in black and white; this one is crammed with pics, many of them in color. Material that the original publisher insisted on cutting in the 1990s has been restored and augmented with new interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

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“Which of Those Two is Now?” Famed Physicist Asks Twilight Zone-ish Question

You can’t just park your brain in neutral when you’re a Twilight Zone fan. Sure, some episodes are just a lark, but more often than not, your assumptions will be challenged and your horizons expanded — though always in an entertaining way. We wind up looking at our world differently.

Or even, considering the sci-fi trappings of many classic episodes, beyond our world.

“I Shot an Arrow into the Air”

I couldn’t help thinking of this aspect of the Zone when I first heard an Alan Parsons album called The Time Machine. It starts with the title track, then segues into a one-minute piece called “Temporalia.” Instead of singing, though, we get some narration from an Oxford professor named Frank Close, who is a famous particle physicist.

Against a backdrop of music that sounds like we’re drifting through space, Close says:

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Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Green Fingers”

For our next stop in this “cavern of canvasses,” we move over to the gardening section and meet an unusual lady. As Rod Serling puts it:

For the horticulturists amongst you, here’s a dandy. A lady who plants things, and then steps back and watches them grow. Roses, rhododendron, tulips. And things never before to be found coming out of the ground — just put in. The subject of this painting has green fingers.

Even the most casual Night Gallery fans tend to remember this one. And how could they not? I mean, you’ve got Elsa Lanchester, decades after she starred as the “Bride of Frankenstein,” playing Lydia Bowen, an elderly woman with an eerily unnatural gift when it comes to gardening.

(Spoilers ahead, naturally, so if you haven’t seen the episode before, you may want to check it out on DVD before coming back.)

We meet Mrs. Bowen as she’s outside her house one day, tending to her numerous plants. In an inspired touch, we hear a harpsichord playing “Greensleeves.” Two cars pull up, and out of the more expensive one steps a wealthy land developer named Michael Saunders, played by character actor Cameron Mitchell (who would later star in Season 3’s “Finnegan’s Flight” with Burgess Meredith). It quickly becomes obvious, as he talks with his assistant, Ernie, that he’s a rather unscrupulous individual determined to get Mrs. Bowen’s land and raze her house for a huge factory he’s building.

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