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.

Twilight_Zone_3

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.

Twilight-Zone-WIDE

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?

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 23: Rod Serling at his home in Los Angeles, California. Image dated December 23, 1964. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Rod Serling

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?

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 23: Rod Serling at his home in Los Angeles, California. Image dated December 23, 1964. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Rod Serling

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?

Serling pensive

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?

***

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!

Advertisements

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 06/03/2016, in Twilight Zone and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I am not a fan of this new idea, Paul. I wouldn’t even want people changing the endings to the stuff I write. Change Serling — that would be crazy. Even if we could find writers as good as him today, why on earth would we want to change it? Let the writer put it out there, and then we can talk. You’re absolutely spot-on in your analysis. You’re kinder than me, or more open-minded. I’m not that interested.

    BTW, I always imagine Henry Bemis wandering into a hardware store and finding a magnifying glass. It’s awkward reading, but he manages.

    • Thanks, Dan. I may be more open-minded, but that’s primarily because I don’t want anyone to think that I believe no one other than Serling can come up with a good TZ-type of show. I don’t want to come off as a Serling-worshipper. But no one will be more shocked (albeit pleasantly) than I am if this new version works.

      They could so easily call it something else, and no one would be upset. But no — CBS is determined to cash in on the name. The only silver lining (which I briefly alluded to) would be if a new TZ brought new fans to the original show. Many current fans were kids in the ’80s who saw the ’80s version first, then found the original.

      And I like your theory about Henry Bemis! I’ve long said that he wandered on a bit and found an optometrist’s office, where he was able to find a useable pair of glasses to read with. Anything to ease the pain of that horrible ending!

      • I give you credit for having an open mind. You’re right though, they just want to cash in on the name. It’s remarkable that the name still has value. That’s a credit to all the things you’ve written about Paul.

  2. Terry Washington

    I agree — we should not pick and choose what endings there should be to Twilight Zone episodes. Can you imagine being able to pick and choose your endings to such classics as “The After Hours”???

  3. Yeaaah, it’s all about the money. Execs are again trying to cash in on previous success. They got nothing…or they’d use it. Since they don’t—hey, let’s reuse a previously successful formula—but let’s change it. And do things differently. And give choices. Oh, but let’s keep the name, cause, you know, “Twilight Zone” sells….

    Of course I’ll give the first one a shot…you never know…I am open-minded (some say there’s too much a “breeze” in there…)…but, for cryin out loud, give it a new name and stand on your own two feet.

    • Exactly. If anyone wants to do a new anthology series with fantasy and sci-fi overtones, there’s nothing stopping them! But no. They want to have their cake and eat it, too, so we get a “new TZ” that will be more “new” than “TZ”. Sad, really.

  4. David Walton

    The only way I can see this working is if the ‘choose your own adventure’ format is ONLY for the first episode and there’s a clever twist, like every choice leads to the same ending, or the story gets caught in an infinite loop and can’t end, or something along those lines.

    Otherwise, you’re exactly right. It might be something cool, but it’s not TZ.

    • That does seem appropriate TZ-like, yes. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of an interactive experience, so I doubt they’d go with it. Interesting thought, though!

      • David Walton

        I hope they’d try something that daring. Now that PERSON OF INTEREST is off the air, the competition for ‘smartest show on network television’ is up for grabs again!

  5. It would have to take a true TZ fan to make it workable, plus a genius nerd or geek who could visualize new epiaodes which would not copy any previous episode but would give a reminiscent feel to them. Well, it may be possible!? Take care, Paul. :)

    • Certainly not IM-possible, I’ll freely grant you. Thanks for stopping by!

      • You’re welcome and usually I like remakes, even if I don’t love them! I enjoyed the “Get Smart” remake but still Steve Carrell isn’t Don Adams, the female (slips my mind) wasn’t Barbara Felton, either. :) Just having old, familiar lines makes me smile, “Would you believe. . .?”

      • Ha, I didn’t see the Carrell version, but I remember seeing the GS movie that Don Adams made — in the theater, no less! Not exactly a classic, but I was a kid, so I didn’t mind.

  6. My selfish, emotional gut reaction is “No” to an interactive TZ. But, if you read Marshall McLuhan & George Trow, you’ll realize how foolish it is to have ever-advancing technology yet expect the object of that technology (people) to remain static. 480-line/3-network TV, HD/500-channel TV, internet, video games, smartphone, etc., all of these have made inevitable changes to our cognitive structures and social institutions. Accepting this sad fact is no worse than the allegory of Janet Tyler accepting her fate at the end of “Eye of the Beholder”.

    However, I think it’s too pedestrian to present viewers with N possible endings and ask them to pick one. It would be more interesting to monitor (with a suitably-instrumented smartphone) the viewer — for breathing rate, pulse rate, skin perspiration, eye movements; i.e., like the “Voight-Kampf” test at the beginning of Blade Runner — and insert various scenes/story forks (not just endings) in response to those changes in their un-controllable, autonomous nervous system.

    • Wow, sounds like the plot to a Twilight Zone!

      Seriously, though, you’ve given us an interesting thought. But while I realize that technology has changed, I also know people haven’t. Whether they’re huddled around a fire in a cave, or gathered around a flat-screen TV with all the other amenities of our age, they still crave a good story. And those stories, at least in my view, should be experienced as the writer intended (not unlike others pieces of art) — not altered countless ways by other people.

      At that point, I believe, it ceases to be art and instead becomes a mere product to be used — not unlike the snacks we consume while watching, or the couch we stretch out on during the marathon.

      I appreciate the comment, though. I do enjoy pondering these things and discussing them.

  7. A Twilight Zone reboot would need to return to the roots of the show to be worthy of carrying on the name and to make any sense. It is a writer’s show. Everything depends upon a finely-crafted story. So, no room for gimmicks like multiple endings. That doesn’t mean that viewers would not participate. They can take part as fans as done for decades — by commenting. Anything else and it is no longer The Twilight Zone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: