Monthly Archives: September 2011
Rod Serling won numerous major writing awards throughout his career, including six Emmy awards. Yet he was surprisingly unimpressed with such trophies.
Here’s what he told editor Linda Brevelle in what turned out to be his last interview (March 1975). She asked how he could top himself after being feted on so many occasions, and he replied:
Well, first of all, I’ve never really topped myself, because awards in themselves really don’t reflect major accomplishment. It’s kind of a strange, backslapping ritual that we go through in this town where you get awards for almost everything. For surviving the day you’re going to get awards. So I can’t suggest that those things represent any pinnacle of achievement.
If indeed they did, I suppose I’d be worried about how do I top myself. But if indeed I’m a household name, it’s a fortuitous event, really singularly undeserved, and caused by a whole lot of extraneous, fortuitous things that have occurred. Read the rest of this entry
If the idea of alien contact sounds good to you, chances are you’ve been watching “E.T.” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” not the Twilight Zone. In Rod Serling’s universe, those who hail from Mars — or Venus, or other far-flung destinations — are usually more hostile than helpful. They don’t want to phone home. They’d rather kidnap and take you home.
Let’s look at a few episodes. To ensure we’re getting a consistent viewpoint, we’ll stick with Serling-penned stories. (Spoilers galore ahead, Zone novices. This is a post for those who have seen just about every episode.)
Start with what is perhaps the most famous TZ tale about aliens: “To Serve Man” (adapted from a short story by Damon Knight). The Kanamits just want to share the benefit of their knowledge with us suspicious humans, right? Wrong. We’re the main dish on the Kanamit menu. They’re fattening us up for the dinner table.
Or take “People Are Alike All Over.” The astronaut played by Roddy McDowall is appropriately skeptical at first, but the natives seem so accommodating that he relaxes. Too late, he realizes he’s become the main exhibit in their inter-planetary zoo.
“You’re most welcome in this particular museum. There’s no admission, no requirement of membership, only a strong and abiding belief in the dark at the top of the stairs, or things that go bump in the night.”
And with those promising words from Rod Serling, Night Gallery’s second season got underway on Sept. 15, 1971. It featured no fewer than four segments, only one of which really deserves solid praise. (In saying that, I don’t want to discourage anyone who’s never sampled Night Gallery; it’s simply that better episodes lay ahead, although even some of the best could be bit uneven.)
That segment, “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes,” is the lead-off story. Serling scripted it from the short story of the same name by Margaret St. Clair. It concerns a boy with a weekly TV show — a forum for his remarkable ability to prophesy. For reasons unknown, he can “see” into the near future, enabling him to warn about impending disasters, crimes, discoveries, etc.
Because of his unerring accuracy, he naturally attracts a huge audience. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s an intriguing one, and it demonstrates Night Gallery’s laudable effort to stage frightening stories that didn’t rely on monsters, vampires and other conventional staples of the genre.
If someone who had never seen The Twilight Zone asked you to describe it, what would you say?
Even if you’ve seen all 156 episodes, it can be hard to capture exactly what the show is about. So let’s check with the ultimate Zone authority: Rod Serling. Shortly after the series premiered in October 1959, he took a stab at defining it for TV Guide:
Here’s what The Twilight Zone is: It’s an anthology series, half-hour in length, that delves into the odd, the bizarre, the unexpected. It probes into the dimension of imagination, but with a concern for taste and for an adult audience too long considered to have I.Q.s in negative figures.
The Twilight Zone is what it implies: that shadowy area of the almost-but-not-quite; the unbelievable told in terms that can be believed. Read the rest of this entry
In the field of science fiction and fantasy, few writers cast a larger shadow than that of Charles Beaumont. Only Rod Serling himself penned more episodes of The Twilight Zone, and Beaumont created many other memorable tales in books, short stories and movies.
How memorable? Had he not died so young, “he would be equal to me,” Ray Bradbury says. “People would know him all over the world.”
I learned that, and many other things, from “Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man,” a feature-length documentary by Jason Brock. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the unique mind behind such Zone classics as “Long Live Walter Jameson,” “The Howling Man,” “Perchance to Dream” and “Shadow Play,” I encourage you to check it out.
The film is packed with stories and remembrances, told by those who knew Beaumont best: Bradbury, Richard Matheson, John Tomerlin, William Nolan, Harlan Ellison and many others, including Beaumont’s son Christopher. They explain how his wild flights of imagination and tenacious spirit helped reshape their corner of the fiction world in profound ways. Read the rest of this entry