Author Archives: Paul

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “The Old Man in the Cave”

Not every Twilight Zone episode was a Rod Serling original. Many of them were, but two dozen of his 92 Zone scripts were based on stories by other authors.

As I’ve shown throughout my “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the original stories to their Twilight Zone counterparts, sometimes Serling kept a substantial portion of what the author wrote. Other times, he kept only the basic idea and made so many changes that it became almost a new tale.

“The Old Man in the Cave,” which first aired on November 8, 1963, falls more into the latter category.

It’s the one about a man named Goldsmith (played by the ever-reliable John Anderson, in his fourth and final Zone role) who’s trying to keep a small band of survivors alive in a post-apocalyptic world — in the “tenth illustrious year after the bomb,” as one of them says. Yep, the Cold War obviously got hot and the nuclear holocaust happened. It’s now 1974, Serling tells us.

(As always, spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen this one before or it’s been a while, consider fixing that first, then coming back. This blog is open 24/7.)

So how does Goldsmith do it? With the help of an unnamed, unseen “old man” who appears to be a sort of oracle. He gives weather forecasts and makes crop recommendations to help the survivors avoid radioactivity. If anyone finds canned goods, he can tell whether or not they’re safe to eat. (Pro-tip: If it wasn’t canned “pre-bomb”, you might as well throw it out, no matter how ravenous you feel.)

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The Alchemy of a Twilight Zone: More Than Just “Unbridled Imagination”

I don’t consider this blog merely a place to fan over Rod Serling’s work. It’s that, make no mistake! But every now and then, I like to ponder why his signature series was such a success. Specifically, what made The Twilight Zone work?

So when I came across this long quote from Buck Houghton, the man who worked hand in hand with Serling to produce the first three seasons of TZ, I knew I had to share it:

The Twilight Zone is a world that allows for things to happen that do not happen in real life: fantasies operate, wishes are fulfilled, life‘s loose ends are tied up, frustrations are resolved, discontents are played out, dreams come true, magic asked for is delivered. Unbridled imagination, working to the benefit — or destruction — of commonplace people.

The challenge, for the writer, of creating a true Twilight Zone story is to stretch, bend, and otherwise distort reality so as to tantalize the viewer, but never so far that it can’t snap back into focus at the last minute to provide a recognizable and satisfying irony or insight.

Therefore, the writer walks a fine line, mixing reality and unreality without falling into an attempt merely to shock, or to propose outrageous situations to finally have nothing to say to us.

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Enjoy an Exclusive Tour of the New “Art of Darkness” Night Gallery Book with Co-Author Scott Skelton

It’s been a long time coming, Night Gallery fans, but “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness” — an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings — is finally here.

Regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about it before, both in a preview post last May, and in a post about how it was available to order a few months later. The book finally started rolling off the presses late last year. It took a while for it to get out — the pandemic did no one any favors, of course — but as anyone who’s received their copy can tell you, it was well worth the wait.

I recently asked co-author and Night Gallery expert Scott Skelton if he could join me for a short Q&A about the book. Scott, you may recall, joined me for a presentation at the 2019 Serling Fest, where we marked the 50th anniversary of the original Night Gallery movie. Here’s our conversation:

Scott Skelton

Paul: So the book is out and in just about everyone’s hands at last. Are you happy with how it turned out? From the outside, it looks like it was a bigger success than you were anticipating.

Scott: We’re all very pleased with the quality of the book, how well-designed it is, how respectful it is of the artistry that went into the making of these paintings. It surpasses many coffee-table art books I’ve seen in its savvy design and high publishing standards. Then again, almost all of us involved were die-hard fans of the show and its artwork, and Taylor White, the publisher, was the biggest fan of all. He spared no expense in creating this volume.

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The Latest Twilight Zone Reboot Gets Booted — What Went Wrong?

I’ve heard quite a range of reactions to the news that Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone won’t be back for a third season. Some Zoniacs are sorry it won’t be back. Many more are glad. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.

This isn’t because I’m trying to be diplomatic. I’m genuinely ambivalent. There were elements I liked about the new version (one of which has nothing to do with the show itself). There were others I didn’t like. Most of them I touched on in previous posts about the series, and I summed them up after Season 1 in this one.

Curiously enough, the latest reboot wasn’t cancelled by the network, but by the creators themselves: Jordan Peele and his company, Monkeypaw Productions:

Why the kibosh on a third season? It’s hard to say, at least from the outside looking in. Maybe the pandemic made it difficult to get things rolling again. Perhaps they found themselves getting interested in other projects. Or it could be that we should take their statement at face value: They told their stories, it was fun, but now it’s time to move on.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if negative reaction to the series played a part in the decision. As you might imagine, I followed fan response pretty closely on social media, and every time the latest reboot came up, the opinions ran at least 80/20 against it. It may be that Peele and his collaborators were able to shrug this off, but hey, we’re human. I’d be surprised if that sort of negativity had no effect whatsoever.

So what went wrong? Let’s mention a couple of things that have come up previously, then get into some other factors we haven’t discussed before. Read the rest of this entry

From Visiting the Zone to Hobnobbing with a Beatle, Kenneth Haigh Got Around

Ever have one of those times when an actor from one of your favorite TV shows also appeared in one of your favorite movies, and it didn’t click for a long time?

I’m usually pretty good at spotting faces and coming up with a name right away: “Oh, that’s So-and-so. He starred in Such-and-such.” But while my memory — at least for show-biz faces — is above average, it’s not perfect.

Take “The Last Flight.” We all have some episodes of The Twilight Zone that aren’t particularly famous, but that really hit a sweet spot for us. That’s how I feel about this story, which concerns a World War I pilot who lands at a modern-day air base (well, modern in 1960, when the episode first aired) and discovers that he’s done some inadvertent time-traveling.

I’m also a huge fan of the Beatles. Seriously, I could run a blog about them, too. And one of the many films I can quote almost word-for-word is “A Hard Day’s Night.” It’s a lot of fun — very witty and comedic, and loaded with great tunes, of course.

So why did it take me so long to figure out that Kenneth Haigh, the actor who plays Lt. Decker in “The Last Flight,” also starred as Simon Marshall, the sardonic advertising executive who interviews George Harrison in “A Hard Day’s Night”?

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The Elf from “Night of the Meek” Remembers Filming a Twilight Zone Fan Favorite

No two people celebrate Christmas quite the same, but if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, there’s a good chance you don’t let December 25th pass without an annual viewing of “Night of the Meek.”

The Changing of the Guard” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” are two other popular seasonal offerings from the fifth dimension. But there’s something special about seeing Art Carney play a sad man who by episode’s end (yes, spoiler alert!) gets promoted to his dream job: the real Santa Claus.

Someone on Twitter was talking with me about the episode recently, and said something about the girl who plays the elf being Maureen McCormick, the actress later cast as Marcia Brady on “The Brady Bunch.”

Except it wasn’t McCormick. It was a girl named Larrian Gillespie.

It’s an understandable error, though. I can see where someone looking at those grainy black-and-white images (“Night of the Meek” was one of six videotaped episodes) might mistake Gillespie for McCormick. And like a lot of child stars — at least ones who played small parts — she’s not listed in the credits.

Neither are the two kids at the beginning, even though they — like our young elf friend — have several lines. But TV credits weren’t very detailed back then. Even Kay Cousins, who plays the mother of Percival Smithers, is listed not as “Mrs. Smithers,” but as “Irate Mother.”

So let’s give Larrian some belated attention — and much deserved too, because she’s just as cute in the role as you’d expect Santa’s main elf to be. Here are some excerpts from an interview she did in 2018:

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The Seven Times Serling Didn’t Say “In The Twilight Zone” at an Episode’s End

One of the joys of watching The Twilight Zone is hearing Rod Serling’s voice come on as the story wraps up, giving us a wry comment, a stern rebuke, or some other fitting remark. And you can count on him saying “the Twilight Zone,” often after a perfect little pause.

At least most of the time you can count on that. In fact, there are seven episodes that don’t use the phrase at all. That leaves 149 where he does say it, so these seven are clearly the exception to the rule.

That begs a logical question for uber-fans such as myself: Which ones are they?

Many fans know one off the top of their heads: Season 4’s “He’s Alive,” in which Dennis Hopper plays a neo-Nazi. But they can seldom name another. And although I was able to name some others myself without going down the list of episodes, I wasn’t sure I was getting all of them.

So I decided to check it out and make it official. (Spoilers ahead!) Here, in chronological order, are the episodes with no mention of “the Twilight Zone” at the end, along with the ending narration:

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Syfy’s 2020-2021 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Having a Twilight Zone marathon to close out a year like 2020 almost feels redundant. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you feel like you’re already knee-deep in the fifth dimension.

And yet, paradoxically, I don’t think we’ve ever needed the comfort of The Twilight Zone more than we do right now.

It can be a scary place, no question. And yet it’s also a land of redemption and wonder — a universe filled with imaginative twists and thought-provoking morals. And hey, when bad things happen, at least they’re happening to fictional characters, and not you!

So if you’re inclined to tune in the Syfy channel to ring out the old and ring in the new with Rod Serling’s brainchild, you’re in luck. Sure, the marathons have their drawbacks (the cuts, the ads, etc.). But for me and for so many other fans, the pros outweigh the cons.

I’d like to thank the good people at Syfy who supplied me with this list ahead of time. This is a first-look exclusive, my friends; it hasn’t been published elsewhere yet. So, without further ado, here’s what we can look forward to seeing this year. All times are EST:

Thursday, December 31, 2020

6:00am – Where Is Everybody?

6:30am – One For the Angels

7:00am – Mr. Denton On Doomsday

7:30am – The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine

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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.

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Why Has The Twilight Zone Lasted? The Writer of Some Classic Episodes Explains

“I think that sometimes in television, scripts reach the level of literature. Often, I think, it’s junk, and stuff is just spewed out with no thought other than to get a script done. But I think sometimes it reaches the level of television literature — something that says something, something that’s lasting, something that’s worthwhile.”

The speaker: Earl Hamner Jr. The subject: Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, for which Hamner contributed eight scripts, including such fan favorites as “The Hunt” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town”.

This quote — an excerpt from the short video below — sums up well why the Zone has endured long after many other vintage shows have faded into obscurity. Many scripts are just “spewed out”, either because of time constraints or a lack of talent. Not so on The Twilight Zone.

Hamner touches on several other interesting points in this interview, including the idea that Serling may have had a premonition of his death. It’s only about five minutes long — and if you’re a fan of Hamner’s signature series, The Waltons, get ready to hear a very familiar voice:

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