Monthly Archives: August 2011

A “Conservative Liberal”

Polarization in politics — is it the norm these days? It certainly appears to be.

I say “appears to be” because I think this phenomenon is mainly one of perception. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle, but the loudest voices from both ends of the spectrum get the most press. Conflict = eyeballs, so the media have every reason to play up the extremes.

monstersaredueonmaplestreet

 

But if, in fact, Americans are becoming less moderate, it’s worth recalling something that Rod Serling said in the November 28, 1961 issue of Show Business Illustrated:

There’s a propensity in our country to polarize things in black-and-white concepts. A man is either this or he is that.

He’s either a Communist or he’s on our side, and I think the reverse is true amongst liberals. If a man happens to be militantly and vehemently anti-Communist, this guy is suspect among the liberals. Read the rest of this entry

A “Dream” Come True

It’s not uncommon for writers to be unhappy with how their work is depicted on screen. So many things can go wrong — a bad actor, ham-fisted directing, a skimpy budget — that it’s a marvel, really, when things go right. The norm, unfortunately, is for something to go wrong.

Perchance to Dream14

That certainly wasn’t the case when “Perchance to Dream” was filmed for season 1 of The Twilight Zone. Charles Beaumont’s first Zone script (the first non-Serling story of the series, in fact) is a bizarre, imaginative ride. Here’s what the author wrote shortly after production of the episode, which was based on one of his short stories:

Serling told me to dramatize it, but to make no changes. He advised me to forget everything I had learned about television taboos. They didn’t exist on Twilight Zone. I should do the script the way I saw it. Believing the instruction to be well-meant, but hardly to be taken seriously, I nonetheless did write the script precisely as I saw it.

Perchance to Dream8

 

To my amazement, it was happily accepted. Nothing was changed. Not one line. Not one word. Not even the wild technical directions, which called for an impressionistic amusement park, a roller coaster ride and a car crash. Read the rest of this entry

A Pilot … About a Pilot

Where did Rod Serling get the idea for the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where Is Everybody?”

Serling appears in a short film introducing advertisers to "Where is Everybody?"

Serling appears in a short film introducing advertisers to “Where is Everybody?”

Like many good stories, it came from more than one source. In this case, Serling had been reading about real-life isolation experiments being conducted on astronaut trainees in the then-fledgling U.S. space program. Add to that two personal experiences:

I got the idea walking through an empty village set at the back lot of a movie studio. There was all the evidence of a community … but no people. I felt at the time a kind of encroaching loneliness and desolation and a feeling of how nightmarish it would be for a man to wind up in a city without inhabitants.

The second experience occurred when he found himself in an airport phone booth. “I heard the loudspeaker,” he later recalled. “I started to push on the door, and I couldn’t get out, and I got panicky. I started to yell at people, ‘Could you do this?’ Suddenly some guy comes along and kicks it with his foot. I wanted to die.”

Twilight Zone fans will recognize this incident as the inspiration for the scene in which Earl Holliman, playing astronaut Mike Ferris, can’t get out of the phone booth in the empty town square. (Of course, he had no one around to ask for help.)

Leave it to Serling to blend these elements into a memorable opening for The Twilight Zone.

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

What Makes Serling Unique?

There’s a pithy piece of writing advice that goes: “Show me, don’t tell me.” Don’t simply say that something is wonderful or horrible, interesting or boring — give examples. Make your case.

So let’s apply that to Rod Serling. Why is he still so famous more than 35 years after his death? Because he was (cue the adjectives) so imaginative and creative. But so are other writers. What makes Serling unique? Let me show you, using one of his most famous Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

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This is, of course, the legendary story about a nice, suburban American neighborhood hit by a mysterious power outage shortly after seeing what they assume is a meteor pass overhead. It isn’t long before the residents get suspicious and start turning on one another. Soon they’re convinced that an alien invasion is underway. No one can be trusted, they think. Chaos and death ensues.

At the end, we learn that aliens are, in fact, invading. Yet — and here’s where Serling’s uniqueness comes in — they’re not the titular monsters. The neighbors are. It’s you and me.

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Think about the set-up — power outage, weird sights and sounds — and then put yourself about five minutes into the story. It could go anywhere at this point. And in the hands of a different writer, it may very well have. For example: Read the rest of this entry