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!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 08/02/2011, in Rod Serling, Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What’s your take on Ferris’ last words in this episode? His confidence that we will get to the moon eventually (while, of course, well-founded in reality) seems at odds with his experience in the sensory tank. (Maybe I’m just too inclined to find pessimism in the Zone where it may not be warranted!)

    • That’s a good point, Mike. I think that Serling may have wanted to show that a well-trained astronaut wouldn’t give up in the wake of a setback. We all admire a “can do” attitude in the face of a challenge.

      Plus, he may not have wanted to hit people with a “downer” ending the first time they ever watched the show. This was, after all, the episode that Serling and CBS showed advertisers to interest them in sponsoring the series.

      Whatever the reason, it’s a good question. Thanks, Mike!

  2. I have to admit, if this had been the first episode of the Twilight Zone that I saw, I might not have been inclined to keep watching on a regular basis. It was a bit scary alright, and the ending was the type that I enjoy. The writing/directing/acting was great, but… I don’t know. This episode just never clicked for me. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t like it!

    • I do like it, but I know what you mean. It’s a solid episode — well done, interesting, entertaining — but it’s not a great one. It’s certainly not what the series would prove to be capable of. Hardly anyone puts it on a top 10 list.

      But to be quite practical, it “did the job.” It sold wary advertisers on the series, and it was intriguing enough to make people want to come back for more. And every series, even one as classic as TZ, needs time to find its footing.

      I like to look at it this way: It was the first rung on a ladder that would enable all of us to climb far into that fifth dimension we’d all come to enjoy so much over the course of five amazing seasons.

  3. I like this episode. I really like the scene in the diner. I also like the scene in the store where the book rack had copies of “The Last Man.” The was an attention to detail in all the episodes that keeps the illusion alive..

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