Monthly Archives: January 2013

A War Without Words

Think, for a moment, about your favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. Perhaps it’s “The Howling Man,” which offers a profound look at the art of temptation. It might be “Eye of the Beholder,” with its searing meditations on beauty and forced conformity. Or it could be the hair-raising descent into schizophrenic madness that marks “The Dummy.”

Whatever your favorite, it almost surely has one key ingredient: ear-catching dialogue. Rod Serling and the other writers who spun their unforgettable tales all specialized in the art of not only telling a good story, but of writing memorable words for their characters to speak.

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Ask yourself: What’s one of the most pleasurable facets of watching George Clayton Johnson’s “A Game of Pool”? Listening to Jonathan Winters and Jack Klugman volley back and forth, trading great line after great line. It’s a clinic in well-honed dialogue that advances the story — and is a pleasure to hear.

So it’s all the more remarkable that one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone features almost no spoken lines whatsoever: Richard Matheson’s “The Invaders,” which first aired on Jan. 27, 1961.

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The story couldn’t be more straightforward: a woman living alone in a farmhouse has some unexpected visitors who are out of this world — literally. Two tiny “aliens” land a spaceship on her roof and immediately begin to stalk her with what appears to be hostile intent.

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A Stop at Twilight Zone 4.0?

“You don’t get writers today who write with that kind of compassion.” — Jack Klugman on Rod Serling

And that, in a nutshell, is why I greet the prospect of a new Twilight Zone movie or TV series with a cautious optimism that’s … well, heavy on the caution. Consider, after all, why we’re even talking about a fourth TZ: because Serling created a series that is as fresh, as innovative and as entertaining today as it was 50 years ago.

Indeed, TZ is rare in that it seems even more relevant today than when it first aired. Few classic series have aged as well.

Twilight Zone Original

In the assembly-line world of weekly TV, where shows are cranked out with little pride and even less attention to detail, Serling and his talented crew went above and beyond the call. They poured quality into every shot and scene. TZ was truly a world-class affair from top to bottom.

Alas, the first Twilight Zone revival, which came in the 1980s, fell short of the mark. This despite the fact that some top-notch writers, including J. Michael Straczynski, Alan Brennert and J.M. DeMatteis (among others, including original TZ scribe Richard Matheson) did some excellent work on the show.

Twilight Zone 1985

But while there were some memorable episodes, it was uneven (not unlike the final two seasons of the original Twilight Zone, to be fair). “There were episodes perfectly in keeping with The Twilight Zone spirit, and then others that could have been from The Outer Limits or from anything,” staff writer Michael Cassutt later said. Read the rest of this entry