Banishing Mistakes to the Cornfield: The Never-Ending Quest For Accurate TZ Info
Pop quiz: How many of The Twilight Zone‘s 156 episodes did Rod Serling write?
Not many people know off the top of their heads, but I can hear some of the more diehard fans calling out, “92!” And how right you are.
So imagine my surprise when I saw someone post an item in a TZ fan group on Facebook claiming that Serling had written 99. He then added something about what an amazingly high number that was, or how much work that represented.
Hey, anyone can make a mistake. I’ve seen a lot of them over the years. So even though I wanted to set the record straight, I didn’t want to embarrass the person who did it.
That’s why, when this sort of thing happens, I try to take a light tone and not act like a jerk. A good way to do that is to mix the correction with some genuine agreement or praise, so in this case, I said something like: “Actually, it was 92. But yes, what a workhorse Serling was! It’s incredible that he was able to write so much, and such high quality.”
If that’s all there was to it, I wouldn’t even be writing this post. Most people are like, “Oh, my mistake! Thanks.” But not this guy. He was like, nope, you’re wrong. It’s 99.
Now, I know for a fact that it’s 92. And not just because several expert sources (such as Marc Scott Zicree, the author of “The Twilight Zone Companion“) tell me so. I know it because I have literally counted each one. And by “literally”, I mean going down the list of episodes and going, “One … two … three … ” for each one Serling wrote.
I can’t imagine not doing that. Sure, it’s more work. Yes, it’s a bit time-consuming. But I really want to give people accurate information. And my desire to do that is stronger than the temptation to be lazy.
Besides, we’ve all seen how easily mistakes proliferate online. You don’t have to be a journalism major (as I am) to know it’s wise to check and double-check your information.
That brings me back to Mr. 99. Although I was determined to correct his mistake (especially since the initial commenters were saying, “Wow!” and things like that), I didn’t want to belabor the point. I figured it would be enough to send him a list of the episodes and tell him he could count the writing credits for himself. (Spoiler alert: You’ll count 92 for Serling.)
So I posted a link to the Wikipedia page listing TZ’s original episodes. You can probably guess what his reply was: Hey, anyone can edit a Wikipedia page. I know that, of course; I simply grabbed a handy link that I knew was accurate (at least on this point) because I had verified it myself.
But here — appropriately enough — was the twist. At some point he shared his source for the 99 figure: the Fandom.com page for Twilight Zone headlined “The Twilight Zone episodes written by Rod Serling.” And that page had a list of Serling’s episodes with a sentence at the top saying he’d written 99.
The irony was, the same guy who had just called Wikipedia an unreliable source had based his post on a Wiki page that was no more trustworthy than the one I had shared.
Things ended well in our discussion, by the way. He wasn’t happy about it, of course. I can’t blame him for that, but it didn’t turn nasty, as these discussions often do. Pride makes it hard to take a public correction well, which is why I try to do it nicely. But it still hurts.
Fortunately, we were smiling at the end, at least figuratively speaking. That’s why I’m not mentioning any names or providing any links. Speaking of links, though, I’m happy to say that Fandom page is correct now, and for a very good reason: I went on there and fixed it myself.
Amusingly enough, the math wasn’t even right by its own standards. It said 99 at the top, as I mentioned, but the list it provided added up to 96! And get this: It left out one of Serling’s episodes (Season 2’s “Dust”), but counted four stories that had been filmed again in the ’80s and ’00s reboots, and one reboot episode that had been based on a story outline by Serling.
Huh? Why count four episodes twice and throw in a story based on an outline? Especially when it says 99 out of 156.
So why share all this? It’s not to brag, believe me. As careful as I try to be, I mess up now and then too.
No, I share it because the experience really underscored for me the importance of making sure the information I come across is accurate. Mind you, I’ve been striving from day one to get it right. But in the early days, I was more apt to think it was enough to get a piece of information from one seemingly trustworthy source.
Nope. You need to double-check it. Heck, if you can, triple-check it.
The quotes that I share here and on my Twitter page, for example? I don’t simply copy them out of a script book or a book about the show. Sure, that may be my first stop. But I will go to that scene and play it, making sure that the wording is precise. (The only thing I ever edit for is space when absolutely necessary.) I’m determined to make sure every syllable is correct.
And when I make a mistake, I fix it as quickly as possible. I’m happy to say that it is rare, but that’s only because I hold myself to a very high standard. Serling certainly did, so it’s the least I can do as I celebrate and honor his great work.
Occasionally, I’ve discovered a misworded quote from the early days, so before posting the same wording again, I correct it and then delete the old tweets so they don’t circulate. (It’s remarkable how often my old tweets surface when people do a search for all things Serling.)
Or an anniversary date is wrong. In an interesting bit of timing, in fact, I discovered quite recently that I had been posting the wrong date for the premiere of Night Gallery’s “Fright Night.” The incorrect date (which I won’t repeat here) is almost two months before the actual date of December 10, 1972. Wiki’s got it right in this case, but IMDb has it wrong (which is where I pulled it from years ago without confirming it).
At least if I make a mistake here, I can easily fix it. That’s not possible on Twitter. Hmm, I wonder if there’s any chance Pedott — the peddler in Twilight Zone’s “What You Need” — could bring me a Twitter edit feature for Christmas?
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!