Author Archives: Paul

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “What You Need”

It’s another rain-soaked night in town, and the usual clientele is hanging out at the Del Rio bar. The unlucky and the lovelorn are in their spots, chain-smoking and drowning their sorrows, when in walks an old man carrying a peddler’s tray.

Ernest Truex as Pedott in TZ’s “What You Need”. He later starred in “Kick the Can”

But he’s not here to sell you just anything. This stranger claims to know what you need, not what you think you want. And whatever it happens to be, he’s offering it free of charge.

Pedott wasn’t the only one with this ability. His creator, Rod Serling, could look at a short story and know exactly what he had to do to turn it into a compelling TV story. And in the case of Lewis Padgett’s “What You Need”, he understood what was needed to make it work for The Twilight Zone.

If you’ve read the entry for this episode in Marc Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, you may recall that the original story “concerned a scientist who invented a machine that read people’s probable futures and who then gave them what they needed to be guided in a certain direction.”

Read Morgan as Lefty

True enough, but — as I’ve discovered in looking more closely at several other episodes that Serling adapted from the work of other writers — it’s interesting to look at what he kept and what he discarded. He retained a bit more than just the basic idea, as we’ll see. Overall, though, his changes were fairly substantial. Read the rest of this entry

Finding Food in the Fifth Dimension: A TZ Diner Tour

If someone suggested taking a trip to the Twilight Zone, even the most diehard fan would hesitate. You mean that distorted landscape inhabited by pig-faced people, hungry aliens, and homicidal dolls? Um, hard pass on that idea.

Hold on, though. What if your trip was limited to one of the fifth dimension’s eating establishments? That’s right, I’m talking about that culinary mainstay of mid-20th century cuisine: the good ol’ American diner.

After all, The Twilight Zone began with one. The first shot of the pilot episode, “Where is Everybody?”, shows Mike Ferris walking along a dirt road. His first stop? An unnamed café.

Just check out that interior design. It screams classic, unassuming diner. I can smell the coffee and bacon already.

Naturally, there are fresh pies. A diner without pies is like a Twilight Zone episode without a twist ending.

But although it all looks inviting, the jukebox is loaded with peppy tunes, and Mike has $2.85 to spend (at a time when coffee cost 10 cents a cup), the service and the company at the “Cafe” leaves something to be desired. So let’s diner-crawl to a place all TZ fans know and love: the Busy Bee from “Nick of Time”. Read the rest of this entry

Twilight Zone Streaming: Going with the Flow or Headed for the Rocks?

If you’re a fan of vintage TV shows and you subscribe to a streaming service, life is a bit like being in a “Friday the 13th” movie: You know just about everyone is going to get it — the only question is when.

“The New Exhibit”

Still, it hurts when your favorites leave. In the last week alone, I’ve seen The Outer Limits (the original and the ‘90s reboot) depart Hulu, while The Andy Griffith Show has disappeared from Netflix.

Both are included in Amazon Prime, fortunately, so I have a fallback. But even Prime has disappointed me lately. It was carrying the first season of Night Gallery (all three seasons of which used to be on Hulu until early 2019), but now even that’s gone.

A couple of other favorites, meanwhile, have gone from being free for Prime members to being something you have to pay extra for.

There are still some great old shows streaming on all three services, particularly on Hulu and Prime. And of course The Twilight Zone is on all three.

“A Thing About Machines”

The question is, how long will it remain? I don’t know the answer to that, so I’m writing today to say that if you enjoy TZ on any streaming service, don’t take it for granted. Read the rest of this entry

Time to Shelve This Criticism of Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”

Today’s post concerns a Twilight Zone episode that is absolutely legendary: “Time Enough at Last”. That’s right, the one about Henry Bemis and his all-too-fragile eyeglasses.

But I’m not writing simply to get some cheap clicks, although I’ll gladly accept them. No, I’m writing to set the record straight about poor Henry.

You may be thinking: “Set what record straight?” If so, you’re probably like most fans, who realize that our mild-mannered protagonist merits our sympathy.

Well, this may surprise you, but some fans don’t feel that way. They think Henry deserves that awful ending.

No exaggeration. Amid the chorus of pity I usually hear when I post something about this episode, a dissenting voice or two arises: someone who doesn’t feel sorry for Henry at all.

Why? Because of his anti-social behavior, they say. Henry didn’t care about humanity, so when he got his heart’s delight, karma bit him in the hindquarters. Serves you right, bookworm! Read the rest of this entry

Night Gallery’s “Class of ’99”: Serling’s Chilling Examination of Prejudice

You don’t have to be the world’s greatest writer to pen an effective script about the evils of prejudice. But to do it in a witty, inventive way? To create a story that really makes you think, that stays with you long after it’s over?

Leave that to Rod Serling. Exhibit A: Night Gallery’s “Class of ‘99”. It’s a shame this story isn’t better known, because it’s one of his best works. And I don’t say that lightly.

If you haven’t seen it before, I’d fix that ASAP. It’s not long — only about 18 minutes. If you have the Season 2 DVDs, it’s the third segment of the second episode. Or you can click this link and watch it on NBC.com (with a couple of ad breaks, but at least it’s uncut). Spoilers ahead, as always.

The story begins simply enough. We see college students filing into a classroom — a rather Spartan, amphitheater-type setting, rather than the usual desks — to take their final exam. The professor (Vincent Price, in the first of two Night Gallery roles) cordially wishes them good luck as they field oral questions from him.

The first few deal with the physical sciences. The students are right on top of it, supplying names and formulas with no hesitation. Then a student named Johnson is asked to name four leading experts in the last 300 years in the field of propulsion. He falters, though, on the fourth name. The professor is clearly unimpressed, but before he can ask another student for the answer, Johnson objects. Read the rest of this entry

A Petition to Rename Binghamton’s Recreation Park for Rod Serling

It’s one of the most iconic images in the whole run of The Twilight Zone: the carousel in “Walking Distance“, Rod Serling’s bittersweet valentine to his upbringing in 1930s’ Binghamton, New York.

Even more remarkable, as many fans know, is the fact that you can visit the actual one that inspired him to write that classic episode. It’s located in Binghamton’s Recreation Park, one of six merry-go-rounds donated by businessman George F. Johnson.

Recently, I’m sorry to say, the park was damaged by fire, the result of arson that occurred in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. The playground was completely destroyed — but the carousel, thank heavens, was undamaged.

Now we have a chance to do something positive. Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and author of “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination“, has started a petition to rename Recreation Park in honor of Serling. Read the rest of this entry

Underrated Twilight Zone Episodes: “The Chaser”

Defending your favorite Twilight Zone episodes? Easy. Criticizing ones you don’t like? Piece of cake. Explaining why you sort of like one that’s unpopular? That’s a bit more challenging.

I’ll bet you have at least one episode you like almost in spite of itself. Sure, you’re aware that it’s not a list-topper, but something about it appeals to you anyway.

Several episodes fall into that category for me. Case in point: “The Chaser”. That’s right, the one about the love potion.

The only Season 1 episode not written by a member of that great TZ triumvirate — Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson — it focuses on the fate of a man named Roger. He’s madly in love with a beautiful young lady named Leila. Unfortunately for Roger, she barely gives him the time of day. She’s also tired of his unsolicited phone calls and flower deliveries.

But since this occurs in the fifth dimension, Roger opts for a supernatural solution. He visits an eccentric professor named Daemon (an obvious play on “demon”) who dabbles in, as he puts it, “ointments, salves, powders, sovereign remedies, nectars, lotus blossoms, toxins, tonics, anti-toxins, decoctions, concoctions, and potions.”

Despite the professor’s repeated warnings, Roger (played by George Grizzard) gets the love potion. And once under its spell, Leila does a complete 180-degree turn. She’s totally besotted with Roger now, much to his delight. Read the rest of this entry

Fan of Scary Stories? So Was Rod Serling. Here’s Why He Thinks We Like Them

Most of us enjoy a good scary story. Something inexplicably draws us in and makes us enjoy being frightened — at least if it’s in a controlled environment, like a book, a movie, or a TV show. The question is, why?

“The Fear”

It’s a question that Rod Serling pondered as well. Check out the introduction to “Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves”, a collection of 12 short stories (by other authors) published in 1963. It’s no longer in print, so I thought I would share his words with fans who might enjoy hearing his insights into the nature of fear:

I am unabashedly and admittedly an admirer of horror tales. If this makes me psychiatrically suspect, my guess is that I share an almost universal affliction. Of all human responses to stimuli, there is probably none quite so commonplace (and so difficult to admit) as the very human fascination for the weird, the grotesque, even the horrible.

Assuredly, it must be this fascination that grips the 10-year-old child watching a spooky movie, forces him to plaster small hands across eyes at particularly horrendous moments but then pries two fingers apart for a quick peek at the very thing that frightens him most.

“Night Call”

Our responses to this kind of “fright motive” seem to undergo a metamorphosis as we take on years. The child is afraid of the shadowy attic and the gloomy cellar. He is wary of the dark corner and the closed closet. His is the formless fear of the unknown, the unexpected; the indistinct wraith that waits to pounce. Read the rest of this entry

Night Gallery Paintings Will Soon Be Showcased in a Special “Art Gallery” Book

Even if you’re not a big fan of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery”, you have to admit: The gallery concept was pretty cool.

Watching our host walk among these bizarre canvases and shadowed sculptures as he introduces each story is a great framing device. It’s enough to make you wish there really was such a place.

There isn’t, of course, but I’m happy to tell you that we’ll soon be able to enjoy the next best thing: a glossy, hard-cover volume with high-quality reproductions of every painting that appeared on the show (and even a few that didn’t).

Titled “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery — The Art of Darkness”, it’s coming to us from Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, the same duo who over 20 years ago brought us the definitive behind-the-scenes book on the series, “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour“. Every work that artists Tom Wright and Jeroslav Gebr created is included. Read the rest of this entry

Filming TZ’s “Where is Everybody?” Went Smoothly — Minus One Costly Mistake

Not many TV shows get off to a solid start. Even ones that go on to become classics need time to get the formula just right.

That wasn’t the case with The Twilight Zone. “Where is Everybody?” proved to be an ideal introduction to that land of shadow and substance. But that doesn’t mean it had a trouble-free production.

Just ask Earl Holliman. In a 1987 interview that’s excerpted in “The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”, he recalled:

It was a joy to do, except the first day. It was very cold on the universal back lot, and it’s hard to do scenes all by yourself — you’ve got nobody to play off.

We were working very hard, starting early in the morning, and now it was dark. We were just about to quit when I heard the camera operator say “Uh-oh.” It seems that he had forgotten to do something, and we didn’t have one single useful foot of exposed film. That whole day was for naught.

I went home feeling terrible. It turned out I had a 102° fever. When you watch the pilot, you’ll see that I sound very hoarse in those first few scenes. That’s not character work, that was me being hoarse.

Read the rest of this entry