Serling Fest 2018: Celebrating TZ — and More — in Rod’s Hometown

My disappointment over Syfy ditching the July 4th marathon was, I’m happy to say, fairly short-lived. On July 5, I hit the road for “Serling Fest 2018” in Rod’s hometown of Binghamton, New York.

It was a first for me. I’d never been there before.

Surprised? I don’t blame you. Considering how long I’ve been fanning publicly over Serling’s work (starting when I set up my Twitter page in September 2010), you’d think I’d have visited long before now. But the timing or the money (or both!) was never right — until now.

It was a long drive (four hours one-way), but well worth it. It’s one thing to read about Serling’s childhood experiences, or to view pics online. It’s another to walk the streets he did and reflect on the fact that you’re in the very spot where, for all intents and purposes, The Twilight Zone was born.

But not just the Zone. Serling wrote so much over his brief lifetime, both before and after TZ was on the air. That was evident at this year’s Fest, which marked the 60th anniversary of “The Time Element” (often heralded as the “unofficial” TZ pilot), and the 50th anniversary of “Planet of the Apes” (which Serling co-adapted for the screen with Michael Wilson).

I wish we could have screened “The Time Element“, but in a way, we got something better. We can, after all, watch the show any time. Participants at this year’s Fest, however, were able to hear a local troupe perform an early version of the script that Serling wrote for radio.

Ever wonder why he wrote such distinctive dialogue? It’s partly because of the many radio scripts that he penned long before he was writing for television. He was churning out words more than a decade before TZ ever hit the airwaves, and the practice really helped him hone his craft.

We did get a chance to watch “Planet of the Apes” right after Gordon Webb, an expert on the film’s production, spoke about how and what Serling contributed to the final product. I’ll do my own review of the film soon enough, but suffice it to say for now that Webb’s research proves Serling deserves full credit for its iconic ending.

2018 also marks the 35th anniversary of “Twilight Zone: The Movie”, which we also screened. Now, you’d have been hard-pressed to find any enthusiastic fan of the film at the Fest. Some like it better than others, but all agree that, whatever its good points, it failed to capture the charm and beauty of Serling’s original.

Still, there’s no denying that it helped revive interest in the original series. And it introduced Serling to new audiences. So we can be grateful for that, at least.

Far more entertaining was getting a chance to watch with everyone the three episodes they remade for the film: “Kick the Can”, “It’s a Good Life”, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. You’d think everyone would know these stories too well to sit through them again, but no. Their power is remarkable, no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

Another treat: hearing presentations from experts Amy Boyle Johnson (“Unknown Serling: An Episodic History, Vol. 1”), Nick Parisi (“Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”), Martin Grams (“Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”), Steven Rubin (“The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”) and Mark Dawidziak (“Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone”).

These authors know their stuff cold. You can imagine how much I enjoyed meeting them, discussing their work, and getting their autographs. My hat is off as well to Mike Pipher at the local Bundy Museum, who is a font of interesting stories and trivia about Serling.

But what could top meeting Serling’s daughter Anne, author of “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling”? Sure, I already had a treasured, personalized autograph from her, but that was through the mail. I’d never seen her in person before. Getting a chance to talk to her, and hear her read from the touching memoir she wrote about her father, truly made this an event to remember.

So did getting to visit Recreation Park, home of the bandstand and carousel that helped inspire the legendary TZ episode “Walking Distance”. The carousel recently got a TZ-inspired makeover, but otherwise, you’re seeing what Serling himself saw so many decades ago.

Enough for any trip, right? Definitely, but I wasn’t finished. I got a chance to visit the Twilight Zone Escape Room (which my team solved with barely a minute to go!) and to play a Serling trivia game and TZ “Jeopardy” with other knowledgeable fans. You can see why I hated to leave!

Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the Zone, and there’s talk of a bigger and better Fest then. Should be quite an event …

***

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

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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 07/21/2018, in General and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Howard Manheimer

    Hi Paul. I wanted to ask how much it would cost to visit there from California next year for the sixtieth anniversary, would you be able to give me an estimate? Even a rough idea would help, if possible. It sounds like you had a very enjoyable time in The Twilight Zone, and lots of other Rod Serling inspired attractions.

    • Flying is so expensive these days, which is part of the reason I drove. Besides, there’s no airport there, so even after you land, you’re not finished traveling. A lot depends on how far in advance you get your plane tickets, obviously. But a cross-country round-trip is bound to be several hundred dollars, then there’s your hotel bill, etc. (The cost of the event itself is pretty nominal; this year’s was $30 for both days.) So I can’t imagine anyone being able to go to it from California without spending at least a grand. I’m sure there are some creative cost-saving tips you could pursue, but yeah — it’s probably going to be pretty expensive. On the bright side, you have a year to plan and save!

  2. Awesome! I didn’t even know this existed. How wonderful that there is an event out there for us Zone fans.

    • Yes, it was really nice to find yourself surrounded by other people who are just as fanatical about Serling and TZ. It certainly was awesome, yes!

  3. This must have been so much fun, Paul. I’m glad you were able to attend. “Walking Distance” is one of my very favorite episodes. I can only imagine how you felt when you saw the carousel. The escape room must have been fun. I would think the best part would be being around so many fans. Thanks for the update.

  4. Nice blog. I have always been a fan of The Twilight Zone. My first episode was Little Girl Lost at 1am on a sat night sleeping over at a buddy’s house when I was 10. But since I found you on Twitter I’ve realized how very little I know. I appreciate you sharing your experiences at the fest as well as on social media. Keep up the good work. Very entertaining

    • Thanks, Nick! I’m glad you’re enjoying not only the blog, but my Twitter page, too. LGL is a great episode to start with — sure, it’s not top-tier Zone, but it’s very trippy and a lot of fun. I’ll be sure to cover it in a future blog post.

  5. Well that sounds like a blast! Would love to attend. Glad you had a great time! This whole thing sounds like its own Twilight Zone episode…. ;-]

    • It really was, Frank — especially, I would say, the nostalgia aspect that naturally arose as I experienced Serling’s hometown. It was great getting a chance to connect with fellow fans and get to know the man and his work a little better. :)

  6. What a fantastic day! And right in NY. I moved to Florida almost 2 years ago, but i was a New Yorker my whole life. I would’ve been on the train so fast. Who knows? Maybe next year. Thank you for covering the event.

    • More like a couple of days, and yes, it was a real treat! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I definitely plan to return …

  7. What a neat experience for you Paul! I’m glad your team solved the Escape room, and the Jeopardy like trivia game sounds fun too. I’d fail, but I’m sure you did pretty great.

    Thanks for sharing the experience. I enjoyed reading it. Your enthusiasm, and joy at being there really came through!

    • I’m so glad! It didn’t feel like I was doing it justice, but that’s how it is when you’re a writer — trying to put feelings and thoughts into words feels at times like you’re attempting to channel some sort of elusive wave or something. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed it!

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