A Series for Storytellers

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.

Deaths-Head3

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.

The Last Flight

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.

I was reminded of that when I read the following words from TZ producer Buck Houghton. This portion of his book “What A Producer Does” is excerpted in “The Twilight Zone Scripts of Earl Hamner“:

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.

8

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.18

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.”

It's a Good Life13

For more on what made TZ work, let me recommend:

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. 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 11/15/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Ah, at last! Another wonderful post exploring why the Twilight Zone works. (And a few of my favourites in your recommended reading! ;)) Beautiful job, Boss. And a perfect quote from Houghton. What can I really say about this except I agree wholeheartedly. TZ gives me hope that quality will always win out over everything else: Over trend, over quantity, over what’s “cool” and “popular” and “now”. The Twilight Zone was quality stories told by quality writers. How could it NOT withstand the test of time? :)

    • Happy to hear you enjoyed this one, Gal Friday! It’s one of my favorite topics, too. I’m sure I’ll never stop coming back to it. TZ fascinates me so much that I keep taking the pieces apart and trying to figure out what makes it tick. I’m always afraid I’m alone in this interest — that others will say, c’mon, just enjoy it — so I’m glad I have such good company. :)

      And yes, the continued popularity of TZ gives me hope. I’m sure it’ll be finding audiences many years into the future. And we’ll be right there, marathoning away, won’t we? ;)

  2. It’s so true. It’s also amazing that people are just now (or perhaps once again) coming to recognize the power of storytelling. I read countless recommendations to integrate stories in everything from social media to advertising. Rod knew it all along and he knew it 50 years ago.

    • Exactly, Dan. Serling knew. And thanks to his talent and tenacity, he gave us a series that exemplified that perfectly. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Right on, and way to go, Paul! Storytelling! MAGNIFICENT storytelling!

    Oh, and let’s not gloss over the fact that you’re becoming an authority on all this. A REPORTER came to YOU. Bravo.

    Again, way to go! :-]

    • Thanks, Frank! It was a reporter from the New York Times, no less. It’s a piece set to appear next month. :) Glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. I loved that show. It always took us somewhere unimagined. Brilliant!

  5. Storytelling, plus directors and actors who could do justice to the tales. Yes!

    And now I’m curious — did they ever get Ray Bradbury to script any episodes for them?

    • Such a simple formula, but so hard to execute. And yes, they DID get Bradbury to script some episodes. Sadly, though, only one resulted in a finished product: Season 3’s “I Sing The Body Electric.” It’s a complicated story why that was — I’ll have to do a post on it sometime soon. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. The best of the Twilight Zone is never going to go out of style! Marking the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, I think you’ll enjoy a recent post I did on Duel, one of Richard Matheson’s best. In the same eerie and indirect way as an episode of TZ would get you, so does Duel. And, yes, there is most definitely a JFK connection.

  1. Pingback: Making a “Grave” Mistake | Shadow & Substance

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