From Serling With Love: A Spy Series That Never Was
Imagine James Bond in The Twilight Zone. Hard to do, isn’t it? Even if you enjoy both, spy thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy stories blend about as well as tuxedos and tennis shoes.
Yet with a new Mission: Impossible movie hitting movie theaters, it’s worth highlighting the one episode of The Twilight Zone that inhabits the cloak-and-dagger world: “The Jeopardy Room” — and pointing out the surprising fact that it developed from a premise that Rod Serling had for a whole new series about spies.
His proposal to CBS in 1963 (in the wake of the hit James Bond movie “From Russia With Love”) described a show simply titled The Chase. Serling wanted it to focus on a secret government agency, directed by a Bondian spy named McGough, that would handle sensitive “international involvements”.
McGough would be a “quiet, taciturn, unheroic kind of man — calculating, predatory, and deadly efficient because the nature of his job requires these traits and nothing more,” Serling wrote. He continued:
Each individual episode of The Chase is a case history of trouble. It’s the story of a Soviet defectee or the American turncoat or any one of twenty-five dozen other stories of intrigue, of suspense, and of jeopardy … the key to The Chase is implicit in the title. The last 10 minutes of every show are devoted precisely to that — a stomach-clutching, ice-cold, walloping several moments of picture taking in which McGough gets out of it.
And this is the key to our series. The fact that in almost all cases we would be able to take our camera and our principal character all around the globe … the trademark of this program is the absolutely novel and unique approach that no matter the show’s beginning, an audience knows that three-quarters of the way through they’re going to be taken for an incredibly adventurous ride perched on top of a camera lens and vicariously experiencing the classic thrill of the chase along with the very special quality of where it occurs.
Sounds exciting. Also expensive, which is probably why CBS passed on it. Besides, this was pre-Avengers, pre-Mission: Impossible, so even with James Bond a success on the silver screen, it might have seemed a bit too untested for the network.
But judging from how enjoyably the non-supernatural, non-TZ-ish “The Jeopardy Room” plays out, I think it’s a shame they declined. I have a feeling The Chase would have taken us all for a very satisfying ride.
The quote above is taken from “As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling.” For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook 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 members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!