Time Enough at Last: “The One That Haunts People”

Of all the episodes of The Twilight Zone, perhaps none has left more of a mark on viewers than “Time Enough at Last.” The episode that struck fear in the hearts of book-lovers everywhere — and inspired horrified glasses-wearers to opt for a back-up pair — turns 55 today.

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In a 1984 article for Twilight Zone magazine, star Burgess Meredith recalled how the episode excited writer Rod Serling himself:

He had just seen some rushes of the show, which made him very enthusiastic. He said, ‘Hey, you’re wonderful. Let’s do more shows with you.’ After that, Rod wrote a Twilight Zone for me each season. Our relationship wound up lasting a long time. And of course, later in our careers, we both did a lot of voice-over work.

Not quite EACH season, as it turns out. Meredith did “Time Enough at Last” in the first season, “Mr. Dingle, The Strong” and “The Obsolete Man” in the second, and “Printer’s Devil” in the fourth. But the fact remains that Serling clearly enjoyed writing for this talented man.

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Meredith was also impressed by the show’s production schedule, which allowed for a day of rehearsals, as well as script conferences and other meetings with cast and crew — a real luxury in the otherwise harried world of network TV:

I didn’t realize it back then, but that rehearsal time was pretty unusual. And perhaps the relationships developed at those sessions help explain why I stayed in touch with many of the show’s behind-the-scenes people after Twilight Zone went off the air.

The final scene, of course, is the one that remains seared in every viewer’s memory — and with good reason. The steps of a book-covered, bomb-blasted public library was remarkably realistic on a TV budget years before CGI work was possible.


Remembers Meredith:

I suppose that shot was quite ornate for a weekly show. But you have to remember The Twilight Zone was shot at MGM, where they had those exterior sets all over the place. As a result, the only thing the production people had to do for that scene was get a few books.

Combine this production value with Serling’s writing, Meredith’s acting and John Brahm’s direction, and it’s easy to see why this episode is still considered a TV classic over half a century later. As Meredith says:

‘Time Enough at Last’ is the one that haunts people. It ultimately proved to be the most successful of the Twilight Zones 49I acted in. I don’t think I’ve ever done any other project that people talk to me more about than that show. Roughly every two or three months, someone comes up to me and mentions ‘Time Enough at Last’. It’s gotten to the point where when they first approach me, I almost know what they’re going to say.


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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 11/20/2014, in Rod Serling, Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. Well, since I can’t genuinely praise this episode, I’ll go ahead and praise your work writing this blog post instead!

    This was interesting and informative, and as usual, it’s written in your inimitably smooth style. I don’t care for the episode or for the actor, but I really enjoyed this post. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: No one writes as well as you do, Boss.

    “Time Enough at Last” is one of the quintessential Twilight Zone episodes. Because love it or hate it, that ending is jarring. So much so that once you’ve seen it, you never forget it. What a great twist from Serling, who normally would have ended this story in a very different manner. He was definitely a master at making people think.

    These quotes from Meredith are great. How interesting to learn about how the production schedule on TZ worked. As you point out, that extra time just wasn’t something you could find on every TV show’s set. I’m sure it not only explained why Meredith made friends with the cast and crew, but also why The Twilight Zone was always so polished and perfect. Sure, like any show there are some less than perfect episodes. But come on — for the most part, the entire series worked like a well oiled machine. Just one of the many reasons it still holds up with television viewers today.

    It’s timeless, it’s classic, and I’m sure Serling’s legacy will continue to live on well into the future thanks to episodes like “Time Enough at Last” and actors as talented as Burgess Meredith.

    This post is the perfect way to commemorate many people’s favourite episode on its 55th birthday. Nicely done, my friend. :)

    • I can’t thank you enough for all the compliments. Let’s face it — if you found this post so appealing despite your dislike for the episode, I MUST be doing something right! :)

      Although I rate “Time Enough at Last” more highly than you do, I share some of your misgivings about it. At least the ending of it, as I explained in another post. I’m on the fence about it, basically. But you’re right — whether you love or hate this episode, there is no denying the power of Serling’s writing, and yes, his ability to make us think.

      And I was glad to work in Meredith’s comments about the production schedule. So much of TV, both then and now, is churned out like a product on a conveyor belt, that it never fails to amaze me how hard they worked to make TZ such a polished production. It’s such a happy anomaly, you could say. No wonder, as you say, it holds up so well today. Serling was quoted as saying just before TZ premiered that if TZ failed, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying — and it’s clear they tried very hard! Lucky us. :)

  2. Great post. I feel like I missed the birthday of an old friend today. This episode always comes up when people talk about their favorites. It IS a good story but I think it’s Meredith that makes it a great one. I posted about it a couple years ago and got some interesting comments. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/time-enough-at-last/ If you’d like to see.

    • Nice job, Jay. Very thoughtful post. I like how you considered the implications of the story for “book lovers” — well done. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. That was a great one.

  4. Hell on earth! :-]

  5. That is such a great episode. He plays that character so well. I never thought about the fact that they had access to larger more complex sets than a weekly show would normally have. I think I’ve seen Maple St used in a couple of episodes, so I should have realized it wasn’t all done for the Zone. That’s what I love about your writing Paul, you are always adding to the experience that is the Twilight Zone. Thanks.

    • Much appreciated, Dan! That’s my goal here. Not just to recap the episodes, but to enrich the experience if I can. Thanks!

  6. I love that episode. Great post, as usual. I have nominated you for an Excellence Blog Award. This award is easy to follow. When I started to come up with my list of ten blogs to nominate, I had to include yours! Details here: http://comicsgrinder.com/2014/12/10/la-journal-murals/

  7. Steven John Bosch

    I think this was one of Serling’s “comeuppance” episodes. The compulsive reader who survives a nuclear doomsday doesn’t spend much time mourning for his wife or friends, if he had any. We’re left to guess for ourselves how long he wanders in the rubble of his city. Confronted with the prospect of endless loneliness he considers suicide. Does he make any effort to connect with anyone else? Maybe another hand caused his glasses to fall and break.

  8. Everyone remembers the final plot twist. In re-watching I was more struck with the scene I didn’t remember, between Harold Bemis and his wife and the Book of Modern Poetry. Nothing like that scene was in Venable’s short story, and it’s sharp and cruel.

    Also, it likely coincidence, but I’m incrementally performing sections of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” every April, and I was struck by the round coke-bottle glasses, the job as a bank clerk, and the dysfunctional marriage and wondered if anyone intended an undercurrent of T. S. Eliot’s world in Bemis.


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