Monthly Archives: July 2011

“Limitless” Ideas

Readers of “Marie Torre Reports,” a column in The New York Herald Tribune, had a surprise on August 8, 1960. Marie was out that day, and she had a special substitute: Rod Serling.

Naturally, the questions centered on The Twilight Zone, which had recently finished its first season. The show had been renewed, but only for a preliminary order of 10 episodes; the ratings had been respectable, but not great. Whether it would run for a full second season depended on how well those 10 episodes did. (They eventually filmed 29 episodes for season 2.)

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I particularly enjoyed Serling’s answer to the first question. His words ought to encourage any writers out there who work in the field of fantasy and science fiction.

Q: “The Twilight Zone stories are uniformly different. How do you manage to find enough ideas?” Read the rest of this entry

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Del Toro on “The Doll”

Being a young, impressionable Night Gallery fan is no guarantee that you’ll grow up to become a successful filmmaker. But it can’t hurt. Just ask Guillermo del Toro.

Guillermo Del Toro

Yes, Del Toro is the one on the left.

The director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy” has noted in several interviews the strong mark that the series left on him as a boy. And when his 1993 film “Cronos” was released on DVD and Blu-ray, he singled out one Gallery segment in particular: Season 1’s “The Doll.”

According to the Los Angeles Times blog “Hero Complex”:

Del Toro also discussed his long-time love affair with the horror genre, vividly recalling the 1970s macabre television series “Night Gallery,” which he watched alone, at night, when he was just a child. Read the rest of this entry

“One For The Angels”: Serling’s Sentimental Side

The Twilight Zone has made such an indelible mark on our culture that people still use the show’s title 50 years later as a shorthand way of describing just about any weird situation.

Notice something strange? Disorienting? Out of the ordinary? It’s like I’m in the … you know.

But the show also had a strong sentimental side, which surfaced early in its five-year run. “One for the Angels,” the second episode, is a genial fantasy about a little girl who is critically wounded, and an old man who is determined to save her.

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Sounds like a standard drama. And it might have been simply that if, say, the old man was a doctor researching a difficult cure. Or if the two of them were stranded in some remote area, far from modern medicine. (Not that either one of those scenarios would make a bad story.)

But this is The Twilight Zone. So the old man, Lou Bookman, is a pitchman – someone who sells odds and ends from a suitcase on the sidewalk. And he’s locked in mortal combat with … Mr. Death.

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That grim conductor to the other side shows up one day to inform Lou that it’s his time to go. The intended victim naturally protests.

Lou: “Now just a minute. I don’t want to go!” Mr. Death: “No, they never do.”

Sorry, Lou is told, extensions are rare. The only one he might qualify for is “unfinished business of a major nature.” He explains that he’s never made a really big pitch – you know, “one for the angels.” Mr. Death finally relents, whereupon Lou, thinking that he’s literally cheated death, tells him he’ll be waiting a long time.

One For the Angels7 Read the rest of this entry

“Where Is Everybody?”

Aliens. Monsters. Talking dolls. Time travel. Space flight. Alternate universes. Nuclear annihilation.

Over its five-year run, the Twilight Zone took viewers to a wide array of times and places, entertaining them with some wildly imaginative and entertaining tales. But it all started with a man walking around an empty town and wondering … well, to quote the title, “Where Is Everybody?”

It served as an ideal introduction to Rod Serling’s fifth dimension. Greater episodes lay ahead, but this story of a military test pilot who finally cracks after spending two and a half weeks alone in an isolation booth put viewers on notice — without getting too trippy — that this was no ordinary series.

A likable protagonist with a problem? Check. A situation that is familiar yet strange? Check. A clever twist at the end? Check. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to that “middle ground between light and shadow.” Fun, isn’t it?

In one respect, the episode turned out to be atypical — the story it depicts could happen. The odd circumstances all occur in the mind of a hallucinating astronaut, who, as it turns out, is doing something perfectly normal, especially for 1959: preparing himself for the rigors of space travel. Viewers could relate, and yet Serling subverted their expectations just enough to create an entertaining yarn.

where is everybody3 Read the rest of this entry

Put Up Your “Dukes”: James Best’s Three Twilight Zones

James Best is best known for playing Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. But he’d much rather be remembered for the three episodes he did for The Twilight Zone — “The Grave,” “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” and “Jess-Belle.”

James Best

Says Best:

The Twilight Zone was probably one of the best showcases for future stars. It was terribly enjoyable to me because generally they had good sets, which they used from major feature pictures. I was a big fan of the show. I think I enjoy The Twilight Zone as much if not more than anyone.

“I did The Dukes of Hazzard series for seven years and we had a chain of writers over there — there was so much nepotism they wouldn’t have allowed any good writers to come in other than their own, which is unfortunate. So consequently, I worked seven years for writers who had the imagination of a banana. The material was so hackneyed we did the same show for seven years.

“Now on Twilight Zone, it was really a pleasure working on something that had the quality and the marvelous writers. I was very fortunate that I got to work on The Twilight Zone three times.

“I am going to go to my grave with ‘Rosco P. Coltrane’ on the headstone. I’d much rather go to my demise with ‘He’s in The Twilight Zone‘!”

Put Up Your Dukes

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

A Round on the House

Occasionally someone will notice the location I have listed on my Twitter page, “Tim Riley’s Bar,” and ask if Tim Riley is my real name.

It’s not. It’s a reference to one of the most powerful stories to appear on Night Gallery, “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.” In fact, it’s one of the best things Serling ever wrote — something that even he, his own harshest critic, didn’t bother to deny.

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In his last interview, Serling was asked which of his works he particularly liked. He named three: 1) his 1956 Emmy-award winning teleplay “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” 2) one he had just written (“A Stop Along the Way”) and 3) “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.” He was clearly proud of it — and justifiably so.

If you’ve ever seen Twilight Zone‘s “Walking Distance,” then you have some idea of the territory that Serling mines here. A middle-aged salesman named Randy Lane, played to perfection by William Windom, is marking his 25th anniversary at the plastics company he works for — and trying desperately to battle both loneliness (he’s a widower) and the young, brash assistant who’s gunning for his job. He longs for the old days, when he, his wife and his friends would gather for drinks, music and laughs at Tim Riley’s Bar. Read the rest of this entry

After the Zone-a-thon

SyFy has been showing quite a few Twilight Zone classics, but even a long marathon can’t cover all the best episodes.

Here are five episodes (one from each season) you may want to check out after the Independence Day binge is over. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive — just a sampling of solid stories that didn’t happen to make this year’s cut:

1) Judgment Night (Season 1): A German passenger finds himself aboard a British ship in 1942, with no idea who he is or how he got there. But he gradually realizes that he knows a great deal about the Nazi U-boats patrolling the nearby waters. And why does he feel a great sense of doom about the ship and its passengers? Serling always excelled at stories of divine justice, and “Judgment Night” is a prime example of his talent for tales of chilling vengence.

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2) King Nine Will Not Return (Season 2): Capt. James Embry awakens next to his crashed B-25 plane, King Nine, in the desert. He and his men had been conducting World War II bombing runs — but now his crew is nowhere to be found. And why are there modern jets flying overhead? Embry feverishly tries to piece the mystery together. Based on an actual story of a missing plane, this episode showcases a one-man acting tour de force by Robert Cummings.

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3) Person or Persons Unknown (Season 3): David Gurney wakes up after he and his wife have thrown a wild party, only to find that everyone he knows — wife, family, co-workers — says they have no idea who he is. Gurney desperate searches for some proof of his identity before they can have him committed. A pure shot of paranoia penned by Zone veteran Charles Beaumont, who specialized in stories of acute disorientation.

Person or Persons Unknown6 Read the rest of this entry

“A World of His Own”

On July 1, 1960, The Twilight Zone ended its ground-breaking first season with a flourish by airing Richard Matheson’s “A World of His Own.”

The story concerns a writer named Gregory West who can create and destroy characters at will. He simply dictates the details into his tape recorder, and presto, in he walks. Or, more appropriately, in she walks. After all, the central conflict of the story revolves around the fact that Gregory has been creating a sweet woman named Mary to keep him company — and when his nagging wife, Victoria, finds out, she confronts him.

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She thinks she’s caught him red-handed. But the woman is nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Gregory denies her accusations at first, but finally admits the truth. As for Mary’s disappearance, well, all he has to do, he says, is snip off the piece of tape that describes her, toss it in the fireplace, and she vanishes. Victoria naturally thinks he’s crazy.

It all builds to a nice little twist that, for the sake of those few who haven’t seen it, or may forget it, I won’t reveal (though there ARE spoilers below).

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“A World of His Own” is a rarity: a Zone comedy that works, and works well. Matheson usually wrote straight dramatic material, and he later said that he pitched the idea for this episode to Serling and to Zone producer Buck Houghton as a serious story. But wisely detecting its comedic potential — and sensing, no doubt, that it could work well as a light season-ender — they encouraged him to take it in a more amusing direction.

Keenan Wynn (who had already done some terrific pre-Zone Serling work in “Requiem for a Heavyweight“) has just the right touch to play Gregory West. Phyllis Kirk (Victoria) and Mary La Roche (Mary) are also well cast. And another “actor” makes his debut in this enjoyable episode: Rod Serling himself. Read the rest of this entry