Why An “Interactive” TZ Is A Contradiction in Terms
When it comes to Twilight Zone reboots, many fans fall firmly on one side or the other: They either love the idea, or they hate it. As for me … I’m somewhere in the middle.
That’s not my natural diplomacy talking. The thought of a new TZ honestly does intrigue me. I want to explore other parts of the fifth dimension. Heck, I want TZ to find new fans!
But as I explained in a previous post, I’m wary. I know what an incredibly tall order such an assignment would be. Success is possible, but it’s quite a long shot.
You can’t just write a bunch of weird stories and call it The Twilight Zone. If what you come up with could just as easily be anything from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to Tales from the Crypt, why even put the TZ label on it (other than to cash in on the name)?
Sorry, but the phrase “The Twilight Zone” has a unique connotation. It stands for a very specific type of story. And to be fair, it’s not an easy formula to understand, which is why the ‘80s and ‘00s TZ met with limited success.
But CBS, which owns TZ, is trying again. The network recently announced a deal with Ken Levine, the designer of the hit video game Bio Shock, to write and direct a pilot for a new TZ — one that would combine elements of a TV show and a video game. It will be interactive, apparently, with viewers able to pick their own ending, and the episodes never ending the same way twice.
And that’s where they lost me. Interactive? Viewers picking their own ending? Hey, that could be fun, but you know what? It’s not TZ.
Rod Serling felt strongly about a lot of things, and one of them was that a storyteller should not only have a definite point of view, but that he should use his stories as a way to impart it. He felt that if you weren’t saying something important, if you weren’t addressing some societal ills (at least most of the time; not every story requires a Big Message), or trying to say SOMETHING, then why write in the first place?
Now imagine TZ done in this new, interactive, choose-your-own-ending style. How would Serling feel about “He’s Alive” ending with a vindication of neo-Nazi Peter Vollmer? About “Deaths-Head Revisited” suggesting that Lutze, the former concentration-camp guard, wasn’t such a bad guy after all? With “Eye of the Beholder” and “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” concluding with pro-conformity messages?
The list goes on, but you get the idea. A pick-your-own-ending scenario may sound like an enjoyable novelty at first glance, but I see it as undercutting the whole reason Serling created The Twilight Zone in the first place.
One person who follows my Facebook page suggested that Serling might like such a reboot because he encouraged discussion. Indeed he did. But how would discussion even be possible, at least in any meaningful way?
Take the legendary “Time Enough at Last”. As many people know, much as I admire this landmark episode, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the ending. This has led to some interesting discussions over the years, as you can imagine.
Now picture an interactive “Time Enough at Last”. My ending is different from your ending, which is different from that guy’s ending, and so on. Sure, we can talk about how we all had different experiences, but beyond that, no meaningful debate is possible. There’s no fixed story, no set point of view.
Or take “The Shelter”. If my version ended with the family letting their neighbors in, and yours ended with them turning their neighbors away, and another person’s ended with them all being vaporized while they argued (to name only three possibilities), how readily can we have a fruitful discussion about the morality of bomb shelters?
The whole idea of an “interactive TZ” feels like a natural outgrowth of the trend toward a more aggressive fan base. The ubiquity of social media and the democratization of information and access certainly has its upsides, but it seems to have birthed a breed of fan who doesn’t view books, music, movies and TV shows as art to be accepted or rejected as is, but as mere content that they have a natural right to help shape – as much as (if not more than) the creators themselves.
I don’t know if CBS execs are consciously trying to cater to this phenomenon, but whatever their reasoning, I think an interactive TZ is a contradiction in terms.
That said, when the new reboot launches, I’ll be happy to see what Levine comes up with and give it a fair assessment. Can I pick an ending where Serling lives another 40 years (like this brother did) and pens many more wonderful scripts?
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!