“This is a Series for the Storyteller”: Serling on The Twilight Zone
Recently I was contacted by a reporter working on an article about the latest release of The Twilight Zone on DVD. We talked about many aspects of the show, but the first thing he asked was why I thought it continues to have such lasting appeal.
It’s a fair question. I mean, it’s been 50 years! TV shows come and go by the truckload. In an age of digital streaming and CGI wonders, what accounts for the popularity of some black-and-white series that premiered back when Dwight Eisenhower was president?
There are many ingredients you can point to: the acting, the photography, the twist endings. And quite rightly; TZ was a first-class affair from top to bottom.
But for me, it all boils down to storytelling. None of it matters if you don’t have a good story to tell. And The Twilight Zone had plenty. That’s why it’s still around. Why it’s finding new fans every day. Why we watch our favorite episodes over and over and never tire of them.
Rod and I read and conferred. Out of it all came six writers (Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Earl Hamner, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, and Montgomery Pittman) whose temperament, genes, impulses, and talents meshed with our principles.
Two were born storytellers, especially of tall tales, the taller the better. Either Earl Hamner or Monty Pittman could start yarning in their easy colloquial way, with one listener in the group very late for … his wedding, let’s say … and that groom would wind up listening, anxious for the end to come, even annoyed when it did not come quickly, but unable to break away.
Either of these two could sit down in my office, start spinning, and in 20 minutes, I knew I had a good episode coming once we wrestled the spoken word down to the reality of the filmic world … soaring rhetoric had to go, making sure we had a script that the artists of the set and of post-production could bring to life … without losing the imaginative charm of these men’s original conception.
That’s why it worked. That “original conception” was there all along, like a rock-solid blueprint. The story it told acted like a reliable foundation on which to build all the other elements that make The Twilight Zone one of the most memorable and beloved TV series in history.
“This is a series for the storyteller,” Serling said shortly before the series premiered. “Because it’s our thinking that an audience will always sit still and listen and watch a well-told story.”
For more on what made TZ work, let me recommend:
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Posted on 11/15/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged Buck Houghton, Charles Beaumont, Earl Hamner, George Clayton Johnson, Montgomery Pittman, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.