The Twilight Zone Companion: A TZ Trailblazer Takes Us Behind the Scenes

Let’s admit it, fellow Twilight Zone fans – we’re pretty spoiled.

Want to watch an episode or two? Have at it. You can see them on DVD or Blu-ray. You can stream them on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. You can purchase them on iTunes, or through CBS’s website — anytime, day or night.

And let’s not forget good old-fashioned reruns, which are still broadcast on Syfy, Me-TV, and other smaller channels (especially at marathon time, when I invite you to join me on Twitter).

What about books? There are plenty – ones about the show, ones about Rod Serling, ones featuring stories done in the TZ vein. There’s a movie. There was a magazine. There have been two revivals so far, and there’s talk of more to come.

In short, it’s not hard to get your Twilight Zone fix. But it didn’t used to be that way.

Let’s travel back in time for a moment. It’s the late 1970s. Rod Serling has recently died. Episodes of his amazing anthology are available, but only in reruns on one of your local stations — edited, of course, and with the kind of damaging cuts you still see today on Syfy and Me-TV.

You don’t get to pick the episode you’ll see. It’s on their timetable. You can’t record it, pause it, or replay it.

Want a reference book on TZ? Sorry. There aren’t any. There’s no movie, no revivals, no magazine – nothing. Just you and some grainy, chopped-up reruns.

But fear not, TZ fan. Help is on the way. Unbeknownst to you, a young writer is compiling the first episode guide to the fifth dimension. He’s interviewing stars, directors and writers, all while their work on the show is still relatively fresh in their minds.

And then, one day in 1982, The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree is published. You snap up a copy, and you read every word. You keep it near the TV for quick reference.

Before long, it’s pretty dog-eared, but you hold on to it. Even today, in the wake of other TZ volumes, it’s the one that most fans are familiar with. And with good reason: Zicree, who would go on to pen episodes of Babylon 5, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and many other TV shows, is a very good writer.

Some of my favorite quotes and stories about TZ come from Zicree’s book (like this one about Charles Beaumont). He provides good capsule biographies of the major players. Zicree has a nice, smooth style, which greatly elevates what might otherwise be simply a reference volume for names and dates. If you like behind-the-scenes info even half as much as I do, and you’re a TZ fan, the Companion should definitely be on your shelf.

That’s not to say the book is flawless. For one thing, the way Zicree sequences the episodes is apt to throw off most fans. Yes, he goes season by season, but not in broadcast order. Instead, he lists them in the order in which they were produced.

Now, back when Zicree was writing this, and people could watch TZ only via whatever rerun happened to come on, that wasn’t really a problem. But today, most fans are watching in broadcast order via streaming or disc, and when they go to Zicree’s book to look up a particular episode, they have to flip around a bit. A minor demerit, to be sure, but still.

(One time on Twitter, a follower referred to “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” as the last TZ episode to be broadcast. Actually, I said, it was “The Bewitchin’ Pool”. I asked him if he had a copy of Zicree’s book. Yes, he replied. Bingo – Zicree places “Owl Creek” at the end of his chapter on Season 5.)

A more serious drawback is the unevenness of the write-ups. It’s easy to tell which episodes Zicree likes, and which ones he doesn’t. If he likes an episode, it usually gets several pages and lots of detailed info. If he doesn’t like it, it barely rates a dismissive paragraph or two.

Now, we all have our favorites, and of course certain episodes merit more attention than others. But when you’re assembling what is meant to be a fairly definitive look at a landmark TV series — especially when yours is, at least, initially, the only game in town – wouldn’t it be a good idea to ensure that no episode, even the less-popular ones, gets short shrift?

But no. Zicree either says a particular episode is dull or uninspiring or by the numbers or unconvincing or whatever — and he says that pretty often — or he provides one little quote or anecdote, and moves on.

A surprisingly high number of episodes fall into this category, especially when he gets into the last two seasons. Yes, as Serling said, a few “turkeys” were produced, but I’ve found that even some of the most middling TZ episodes have something interesting in them. At its worst, TZ still outshines much of what passes for entertainment, then or now.

Mind you, I’m not saying that a TZ fan can’t say a critical word about the series. (I have my own list of least-favorite episodes.) But you’d think someone who’s enough of a fan to have gone to all the trouble Zicree did to write this book, especially at a time when no other references existed, wouldn’t find quite as much fault as he does. Perhaps over-familiarity with the material as he wrote did it?

He also questions the science of TZ repeatedly. He’ll note, for example, how impossible it would be to cover the vast distances people do in the space-travel episodes. Or he’ll say, “Serling didn’t do his homework” in writing “Third From The Sun”, because (spoiler alert) a character says they’ll be traveling “11 million miles” to reach Earth. “Venus is our closest neighbor at 24,600,000 miles,” Zicree points out.

Or consider his write-up of “The Little People”, which (another spoiler alert) concerns a power-hungry astronaut who’s been lording it over some tiny people he found on a far-off planet. At the end, he encounters two gigantic human-looking figures who accidentally crush him to death. Notes Zicree:

As far as science goes, ‘The Little People’ is out-and-out fantasy. As height is squared, volume is cubed, meaning that weight increases at a much faster rate than size. Humans the size of those seen at the end of the episode couldn’t possibly exist; their own weight would crush them.

Fair enough, but I think nearly every TZ fan realizes that the scientific details given in almost any episode are an expedient. They’re there to move the story along — no more, no less. A true science-fiction show would sweat those details, but here they’re very much secondary.

In short, to get the idea across in, say, “Third From The Sun”, we don’t need a NASA-approved measurement – we just need to know it’s a really long distance. And we can enjoy the irony-filled comeuppance at the end of “The Little People” without howling about how scientifically implausible it is.

But in the end, The Twilight Zone Companion is a must. I know I’ve dwelt onits demerits at some length, but that’s only because they mar what is otherwise a very good book. Faults aside, Zicree was a trailblazer of TZ research, and his affection for the series still manages to come through. I’ll end with this quote from his epilogue:

If, in his darkest moments, Rod Serling felt his accomplishments on The Twilight Zone were of a transient nature, these were only the passing fears of every writer that his life‘s work has been of no consequence. The shining product of his imagination still flourishes, reborn each time a person turns on television and sits before the glowing screen, caught in the spell. To those already acquainted, each new meeting is a reunion filled with delight. To those coming to it fresh, it is a revelation full of wonder and mystery and awe.

Hear, hear.


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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 11/30/2017, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I think the best (and growing) resource is this blog. Not trying to give you a fat head, Paul, but you do a really good job.

    As for the book, I might pick up a copy. As for his criticism, if you can’t get lost in the story and forget the science, you shouldn’t bother watching. Five Star Trek series and a bunch of movies later and nobody sits there saying: “Heisenberg compensator? who are they trying to kid?”

    • You’re too kind, Dan. I really should be blogging more often here, though, to be worthy of that compliment — but I certainly do appreciate it. :)

      And yes, despite my criticisms of the book, it’s definitely worth getting, with or without the optional Heisenberg compensator …

  2. I ADORE the Zicree book! I read and re-read and re-re-read it as a middle schooler discovering TZ through reruns on my local PBS station (of all places – I wrote them an incredibly incensed and self-righteous letter when they had to stop showing it because the license had changed hands; I knew nothing of such matters). There are *still* episodes I have never seen for myself (for shame, I know) that I nevertheless know a lot about because of this book. (The first edition, mind you, which I gave away to a friend and fellow TZ fan a few years ago… now I only have a second edition, which is nice, especially for the chapter on TZ: The Movie and the 80s CBS revival, but I do wish I had kept my dog-eared first edition sometimes.)

    I used to use Zicree’s capsule summaries as writing prompts. I’d “flesh out” the synopsis into a 2-page play (well, skit, really), banged out on a manual IBM laptop typewriter (there were such things). I still cringe as I remember how I “rewrote” “The Gift” (no, I will not divulge details).

    Your anecdote about the person who thought “Owl Creek” was the last episode aired — I am 90% certain that was me. Thanks for going easy on me :)

    Dan above is right; this blog is without peer. But, as you freely and gladly admit, it and all the other Zone authorities owe a lot to Zicree and his labor of love. Thanks for this tribute to it, and to him!

    • I thought Dan was pouring it on more than I deserve, Mike, and then you come along! Very grateful for the kind words, though. :)

      I really did enjoy writing this. It’s been on my ideas list for a while now, but I wasn’t sure what was the best way to approach it. I finally figured that putting it in context made the most sense. And ha, I’m not surprised to hear how heavily you relied on it. I hate to think we’ll never see your rewrite of “The Gift”, though — hope you’ll reconsider at some point!

      I’m genuinely not sure who asked me about “Owl Creek”, but my recollection is that it was someone I didn’t really know. Either way, of course I’d go easy! Heck, I know I thought that episode was the last one myself for a long time.

      More book reviews to come. Glad you enjoyed this one!

  3. I need to get one or 2 of these TZ Companion books. Great post! I wonder if anyone questioned his science when he wrote for Babylon 5 and Star Trek? lol

    • Thanks! The Companion should be on your short list, no question. As for his science — I’m not sure! I hope he thought to make it plausible, though. Glass houses, people …

  4. I checked the Zicree book out of the library as a young teenager and it helped propel me into hardcore fandom. I later bought a copy for myself, and then got another copy which was slipcased with the first Season 1 DVD boxset. I flip through the book regularly.

    Martin Grams book was meant to be a counterweight to Zicree, pointing out factual episodes and leaving out personal opinions. And the Grams book is invaluable in its own way. But Zicree is where it’s at for me.

    • Same here. The two are both essential in their own way — Grams is the more factually based reference book, but Zicree has a certain style that the other one lacks. I use them both very much in tandem, along with others that I’ll be reviewing at some point.

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