Monthly Archives: November 2011

Trying to Go Home Again

It’s a theme that surfaces repeatedly in Rod Serling’s writing. We see it in his teleplays in the 1950s and in episodes of The Twilight Zone (‘60s) and Night Gallery (‘70s). It helped him create some of his best work.

I’m referring to nostalgia. “I have a desperate desire for serene summer nights, merry-go-rounds and nickel ice-cream cones,” Serling told TV Guide in 1972.

This yearning led to the development of two of his most popular Twilight Zone episodes: “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby.” Both came in Season 1. Both feature a harried businessman trying to cope with great stress and a sense of helplessness. Both showcase a longing to escape into the past.

If you’re like most Zone fans, you rate both episodes highly. Pressed to pick a favorite, many opt for “Walking Distance.” But not Serling. Although he seemed pleased with it when it aired, his fondness for it waned as the years went by. “A Stop at Willoughby,” however, he later called his favorite from Season 1. Read the rest of this entry

“A Film Isn’t a Horse Race”

Thanksgiving is almost here, but don’t assume that means it’s turkey time. At least, not at your local movie theater.

Time now for Hollywood to bring its “A” game. The last few weeks of the year inevitably bring a fresh crop of films that the major studios hope will be serious Oscar contenders.

But what did our favorite Twilight Zone scribe, our curator at the Night Gallery, think of the Academy Awards? Not much.

Serling -- B&W 1

Here, taken from a 1972 speech, is what Rod Serling had to say about the yearly Oscar telecast:

This offers up the patently impossible premise that there’s a ‘best picture’ and a ‘best performance’ and a ‘best director’ and a ‘best’ actor and actress. And I don’t think that’s true; I think that borders on the nonsensical. You can make comparative judgments about an art form, any art form. But a film isn’t a horse race. And to say that the whole or a component part thereof is the best, absolutely the best, is like trying to establish that an orange tastes better than an apple. Read the rest of this entry

“Welcome to a Private Showing”: Night Gallery Debuts

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way — not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.

“Our initial offering: a small gothic item in blacks and grays. A piece of the past known as the family crypt. This one we call simply The Cemetery. Offered to you now, six feet of earth and all that it contains. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Night Gallery.”

And with those words, Rod Serling gave TV viewers their first glimpse of a unique art display — designed not to be edifying, but to be eerie. Read the rest of this entry

Eight Ball, Corner Pocket

It was one of Jonathan Winters’ best roles — and he played it straight as an arrow. Talk about The Twilight Zone.

The episode was “A Game of Pool.” It also starred Jack Klugman, who would eventually appear in four episodes (a streak matched by Burgess Meredith, another Zone veteran). Seeing Winters and Klugman act and react in this two-man, one-set show gives this episode special appeal.

agameofpool

Having a terrific script helps. Good Zone eps always boiled down to the writing. An intriguing story, cleverly written and engagingly acted — a formula that’s simple to understand, but hard to execute. In this case, it wasn’t Rod Serling but George Clayton Johnson (“Kick the Can,” “Nothing in the Dark,” among others) who wrote the words.

But that doesn’t mean he was wild about ALL the words that wound up in the final product. Read the rest of this entry