Marathon Misgivings

There’s nothing like ringing in the new year with a party. And if you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, you know the best one around is the one thrown by the Syfy channel.

"Nick of Time"

“Nick of Time”

I mean, two days in the fifth dimension, bingeing on your favorite episodes, and maybe discovering some “new” ones? Whether you go the distance, or dip in here and there for a few short excursions into the unknown, it’s hard to pass up.

A lot of fans consider the Dec. 31/Jan. 1 TZ marathon more essential than a glass of champagne and a list of resolutions. For many, it’s the only time they’ll watch the series all year.

And that’s kind of a shame. Not because they should watch it more often (though I wouldn’t discourage that, of course). Because they’re not seeing The Twilight Zone at its best.

34

“Walking Distance”

Why? Three reasons:

1) The episodes are interrupted constantly by a barrage of commercials. “It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper,” Serling once said. It’s even worse when one is trying to create and sustain the mood necessary to enjoy any kind of fantasy or fiction. Worse, you’ll see the same ads over and over again.

2) The episodes are edited. Not for objectionable content, of course, but to make room for … more commercials. Not minor trims, mind you. As Serling noted after the series went into syndication: “Full scenes were deleted. It looked like a long, protracted commercial separated by fragmentary moments of indistinct drama.” 35A particularly egregious example: the unmasking of Jason Foster at the end of “The Masks.” That’s a key moment. If you’ve never seen it, imagine what else you’re missing.

3) The episodes are grainy-looking. Because The Twilight Zone is an old black-and-white series, many viewers probably don’t expect it to look all that sharp from a technical standpoint. In fact, it was beautifully photographed by cinematographer George Clemens, who won an Emmy award for his work on the series. On DVD and Blu-ray, or streaming on services like Netflix and Hulu, it looks clear as a bell. (Enlarge any of the pics on this post to see what I mean.)

"Time Enough at Last"

“Time Enough at Last”

“I have no intention of being satisfied with what would be considered second best,” Serling said shortly before The Twilight Zone premiered.  Nor should the rest of us when it comes to watching the excellent work that he produced.

Related: “Are TV Marathons Passé?

***

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. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

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 01/17/2014, in Twilight Zone and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. What a great post! But first, an addendum: “… you know the best one around is the one thrown by the Syfy channel and @TheNightGallery.”

    No need to be modest, my friend. It’s YOUR New Year’s Eve TZ party that we all look forward to too! :)

    And you’re so right. While TZ marathons are a lot of fun, those three drawbacks you list here are glaring ones. Who the heck wants to see the same antihistamine ad thirty times in one night? And yeah, compared to the DVD or Blu-ray discs? It’s like trying to watch TZ through a pair of Henry Bemis’s glasses that were buried in the rubble.

    The worst offender though, is of course, the episode hacking. *sighs* Just NO. I often have to use my DVDs to follow along with the marathon, but this year I got to watch live when they aired “The Masks”. It was the first time I didn’t get to see the unmasking of Jason, which as you mentioned, is a major point in the episode. Frankly, you might as well can the ep all together without that revelation. In many ways, that IS the episode. The message, anyway.

    But even with these strikes against it, the marathon lives on. And that’s because The Twilight Zone is an entity all its own. It’s a stellar show, well written, well cast, and we have authorities like yourself who make it fresh and accessible every day for the rest of us. A winning combination!

    • Great TZ analogy there! And thanks for adding me as co-host for the marathon. I think your bias is showing, but I’m not going to protest your magnanimous gesture! :)

      The discs (and the streaming services) have really spoiled me. The marathons are the only time I see TZ broadcast, and the downgrade in quality is glaring. But yes, far worse are the cuts. You can’t chop scenes out and expect the story to work as well, any more than you can pull parts out of a car engine and expect it to run trouble-free.

      However, as you point out, the series was so well-written and produced that the episodes still manage to be enormously entertaining. And the marathon is still a lot of fun. I wouldn’t miss it for anything! :)

  2. Seriously, they cut the end scene of Masks? That’s like editing out Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

    • Yes, it undermines the whole point of the story. I wish I could say that edit is the exception to the rule, but it’s not.

  3. Very interesting observations. I will put this point firmly in the marathon’s favor, though: I could probably never get my kid to agree to make a “date” to watch Twilight Zone with me (have only had luck doing so once so far, anyway); but if we can walk in the house on 12/31 or 1/1 and I can just turn on the TV and flip to SyFy… voila! He’s hooked. He watched a full hour with me. (I just wish they had been stronger episodes – we saw “Five Black Jackets” and the awful, awful “What’s in the Box?” Still, he seemed to like the Jackets one well enough). Even better results on July 4 – we watched three or four really strong eps together.

    So, actually, maybe I *would* have better luck if I proposed a TZ “date” with him again. But, without the instantaneous exposure possible through the marathon, I don’t know it would’ve happened!

    Still, enjoyed your post and agree that slicing and dicing the episodes is really lamentable! As Wendy says, the show is fortunately strong enough to survive such manhandling.

    • Thanks, Mike! Believe me, I have much to say in the marathon’s favor. (If you haven’t checked that post that I linked to at the end of the post, please do — it’s me listing five reasons I would never want to see the marathon go away.) The fact that someone else is doing the programming for you is a big plus, of course,

      And yes, you can hit an occasional dud, but I have to admit they made some strong picks this year overall. But a few gems WERE overlooked. Stay tuned for a follow-up post highlighting a few of these episodes!

  4. What an opportunity for some megabucks corporation to bring us the entire marathon uncut. They could slam a commercial between episodes – it’s not like they would be worried about us changing channels. If anybody steps up and does that, I promise to buy their products (assuming I can use them, so no feminine hygiene, baby food, diapers or veggie-burgers please).

    • Good point, Dan! I don’t mind a few commercials. I really don’t. It was just the sheer quantity and repetition that got me. I mean, you get ads when you watch them on Hulu, but they’re brief, and they usually mix them up a bit. But yeah, an uncut marathon? Time and channel, please!

  5. Bill Slaughter

    Everything you say is so very true. Syfy channel is not the best place to showcase the series. Like many others (A&E, Bravo, etc), they were once concerned about high quality but now are frankly low class. Hopefully someone will step up and give the show the presentation it deserves. The blu-ray box set is magnificent. It’s like seeing the show for the 1st time. The commentaries included are wonderful. Recommend it to all.

    • Yes, I have the whole series on DVD and Blu-ray, and I’m very impressed by the quality. The transfers are top-notch. I’m hoping Syfy will improve its game, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m grateful that they air it every year, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t see why the series can’t be given a classier, more fan-friendly presentation.

  6. I didn’t realize shows were edited for more commercials. Imagine if we wrote a book and the publisher decided to eliminate 100 pages!

    • Exactly! They treat these little masterworks as if they were mere commodities that can be stamped out in any shape and size.

  1. Pingback: “The Masks”: 50 Years Later | Seeker of Truth

  2. Pingback: SyFy’s July 4th Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule | Shadow & Substance

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