“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

Dialogue was always one of Serling’s strong points. That’s never more apparent, ironically enough, than here, in a story where the hero, Mike Ferris, spends almost the entire time talking to himself. It’s a testament to Serling’s writing, Earl Holliman’s acting, and the hard work of a talented production crew that this one-man show never feels like a one-man show.

Nice touches abound: a smoldering cigar in an ashtray in a town where no one can be seen. A swinging jail door that threatens to imprison our hero. A mannequin seated in a car that, at first glance, appears to be a real person. A book rack filled with copies of “The Last Man on Earth.”

last man on earth

And my personal favorite: when Ferris comes tearing down the steps of a movie theater balcony and runs right into a full-length mirror. (Until he breaks it, we don’t know it’s a reverse shot and that we’re seeing his reflection.)

It ends on a hopeful note — something not many Zone protagonists could count on. Ferris is carried away on a stretcher to the hospital for tests. He looks up at the moon — which, we have to remember, hadn’t been visited yet — smiles and says:

Hey, don’t go away up there. Next time, it won’t be a dream or a nightmare. Next time, it’ll be for real. So don’t go away. We’ll be up there in a little while.

We were in for plenty of entertaining dreams and nightmares, it turns out. And we weren’t going anywhere.

where is everybody4

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 07/12/2011, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I LOVE The Twilight Zone and always have. My son, who’s 12, loves it too. He’s been watching them and keeps asking me which one is my favorite. How do you pick just one to be your favorite when they were all absolutely amazing? Rod Serling was a brilliant man. I wasn’t alive when these were new, but I can only imagine how big a deal they were back then, because to me and my son, they still are a big deal over 50 years later.

    • And I think they always WILL be a big deal, Kimberly. And I know what you mean about picking a favorite. When I went to create a top 10 list, it turned into a top 25! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  2. Great post about the birth of a remarkable series. I found it interesting that in Serling’s “DVD commentary” on the episode, a recorded class lecture, that he was down on the narration and had figured out how he would do it differently years later. It shouldn’t work, but it did!

    • Yes, he was often down on his own work. I’m glad he wasn’t an egomaniac, but he tended to go too far in the other direction, I think. But yes, TZ certainly works, and works beautifully. Thanks, E.C.!

  3. You did such a nice job with this post, my friend.

    “Where Is Everybody?” is not one of my favourite TZ eps. But, out of the series’ 156 episodes, THIS is definitely the one that was best suited to introduce the world to Rod Serling’s vision.

    I think it has a little touch of everything we love about The Twilight Zone. It takes all the things that make the show different from any other show that’s ever been produced, and presents them all in this one episode.

    You’ve got the creepiness, and the mystery of the unknown. A character that’s searching for something. Until the end, it has all the accoutrements of a classic sci-fi suspense, with perhaps just a hint that there could be something supernatural at play. But then Serling gives us a dose of reality and brings the story into the entirely plausible present day. And most importantly for me? We get a “happy”, satisfying ending. The man isn’t being punished. He’s not really alone. His suffering is not going to continue. We can sigh with relief knowing that he’s safe and okay. And THAT to me is great television.

    Every Twilight Zone has at least one of these themes working in it. But I think this is the only one that showcases them all. What better way to step into the Fifth Dimension and learn what it’s all about? :)

    • Thanks! Yes, this episode was the ideal way to pull viewers into a fantasy series that would prove to be ground-breaking in so many ways. It wasn’t TOO far out, but it was different enough to put everyone on notice that this was something different and special.

      I keep meaning to do a post about Serling’s attempts to come up with an appropriate pilot. WiE was NOT his initial idea, as you know. He had at least three other ideas that wound up being set aside for one reason or another. It’s easy to assume that the creators we admire were effortlessly brilliant. We forget that they were human and had to struggle to hit the right note sometimes!

      It’s interesting, too, to see how Serling did his own “retread” of this story at the start of Season 2 with “King Nine Will Not Return” — and give it the ending he’d hoped to with this episode (but couldn’t, for reasons I detail in my “King Nine” post). No artist is ever completely satisfied with his work, I suppose!

  4. The passage of time since these were created has added its own dimension of time travel. People that saw the series first time around are looking back to their own partly dreamed pasts, wishing something had been different maybe, similar to a theme of the show itself. That same idea resonates with people of all ages, I suppose. Children probably appreciate the fantasy/sci-fi aspects more, but will acquire the extra dimension … in time.

    • Interesting thought! (The time-travel/memory aspect, I mean.) And yes, there’s no question we get more out of the episodes on later viewings, especially when we have more experience and perspective. Thanks for the comment!

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