Category Archives: Twilight Zone

The Imaginative World of Charles Beaumont: Vote for His Best Twilight Zone Story

The most famous writer of The Twilight Zone? Rod Serling, obviously. Besides creating, producing, and hosting the series, he penned no fewer than 92 scripts for it. But after him?

Charles Beaumont

Most fans, I think, would pick Richard Matheson. And who could blame them? The legendary author’s contributions to the Zone include some truly iconic episodes, such as “Little Girl Lost,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

Few fans would name Charles Beaumont. And that’s a shame. Not only was he the most prolific Zone writer after Serling — logging 22 scripts to Matheson’s 14 — but his fertile imagination created some of the most mind-bending tales in the fifth dimension.

So I thought it might be fun to give fans a chance to select their favorite Beaumont episode, the same way I did with Matheson back in 2013. In fact, I was thinking about doing a new Matheson poll post when it occurred to me to finally do one for Beaumont. I’ll circle back to Matheson soon enough, but let’s give Beaumont some much-deserved attention.

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The Secret Behind Nehemiah Persoff’s Vivid Portrayal of a Twilight Zone Villain

So few of the original Twilight Zone stars are still with us. Just a handful, really, if you don’t count ones who were children when they appeared on the show. So when one of them dies, it can feel like we’ve lost a close friend or family member.

Such was the case when the news broke that Nehemiah Persoff had passed away at 102. A gifted and prolific performer, he played a memorable villain early in the Zone‘s first season.

An amnesiac who spends most of “Judgment Night” trying to figure out who he is and why he has a premonition of doom, U-boat Capt. Carl Lanser may not be as hateful as SS Capt. Gunther Lutze in Season 3’s “Deaths-Head Revisited,” but his eternal “reward” is no less harsh. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that he is constantly reliving the night he ordered the destruction of a WW2-era ship loaded with civilians — this time as a passenger on the ill-fated vessel himself.

I have yet to do a deep dive on “Judgment Night.” That will come, but my goal today is more modest: to share a tribute to Persoff published in The Washington Post. Most of the Post‘s content is behind a pay wall, but it’s my understanding that this article is free to all. Even if you can’t read it all, though, I just want to spotlight a couple of points in it, which I’ll quote here.

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The Right Length for a Twilight Zone: Half an Hour or an Hour? How Serling’s Answer Changed

Opinions about Twilight Zone‘s fourth season, when Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series expanded to an hour, vary widely. Some fans really enjoy it. Others? Not so much.

“I Dream of Genie”

But even the biggest cheerleaders for Season 4 will admit that Serling and his fellow scribes were much more in the Zone, shall we say, when their stories clocked in at 25 minutes, not 50.

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” Serling said at one of several points when talk of an hour-long version came up. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch 15 minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

There’s a little Zone-like foreshadowing. Serling’s foray into the fifth dimension soon became an hour-long jaunt, and his warning about “fleshening” would prove prophetic. You’ve heard of doing more with less; this was a case of doing less with more.

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford”

That’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have some good episodes. We got, for example, “He’s Alive” (with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being coached by Adolf Hitler’s ghost), “The New Exhibit” (Martin Balsam as the curator of some homicidal wax figures), “Printer’s Devil” (Burgess Meredith as a diabolically talented journalist), and “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (James Whitmore as the power-hungry leader of a barren space colony).

I could name others, and perhaps you could too. As Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, wrote: “The series had not disgraced itself.”

Far from it, in fact. Still, it was wise to go back to the half-hour slot for Season 5. As Buck Houghton, TZ’s producer through its first three seasons, later pointed out, the extra length made it very tough to do the kind of surprise endings that Serling and the other Zone writers specialized in throughout most of the show’s run.

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Syfy’s 2021-2022 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Ah, the Twilight Zone marathon. It’s become such a fixture of each New Year’s Eve. Can you think of a better way to ring out the old and ring in the new than with Rod Serling?

Sure, there are drawbacks to watching the Zone this way. The ads and the edits sometimes seem as if they’ve been engineered by Talky Tina. It’s best to watch the show on disc, frankly. But there’s something comforting about the tradition of the NYE marathon. Plus, it’s great to all be watching at the same time and interacting over social media.

So let’s get to the big question: What will they be showing this year? I know some fans like to be surprised, but most fans appreciate a heads up. So, courtesy of the friendly folks at Syfy (who were nice enough to share the lineup with me ahead of time), here’s the schedule for the 2021-2022 marathon: 104 episodes out of TZ’s 156. Times shown are EST, btw:

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“The Fugitive”: A Sweet Tale That Makes Some Twilight Zone Fans Uneasy. Should It?

When you’ve been fanning publicly over The Twilight Zone as long as I have, you start expecting certain reactions.

For example, when I tweet about “To Serve Man,” I know some people will make cookbook jokes. When I post a quote from “Time Enough at Last,” I’ll hear, “It’s not fair!” If the topic is “It’s a Good Life,” then “You’re a bad man!” is coming. And that’s fine! It’s part of the fun.

But not all predictable reactions are so benign. One that I don’t enjoy at all occurs when I tweet about “The Fugitive,” a story by Charles Beaumont that centers on the friendship between an old man named Ben and a young girl named Jenny.

This being the fifth dimension, Ben isn’t just an ordinary old man. In fact, we learn near the end (spoiler alert; click here to see where you can watch it first) that he’s neither old nor a man. Not an earth man, anyway. Ben is actually a rather young king from another planet.

So why was he here, disguised as actor J. Pat O’Malley? Because he got fed up with his royal responsibilities and ran away. The two men who have been hunting him down during the first half of the episode mean him no harm; they’re a duo from his planet, here to bring their popular monarch back home, where he can continue his benevolent rule.

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A Harsh “Encounter”: What a Long-Hidden Twilight Zone Can Teach Us About Hate

“It was a very harsh show. I’m sure it was considered too hot to handle.”

The speaker: Robert Butler, director of Twilight Zone’s “The Encounter.”

Few fans would disagree. The episode’s unflinching depiction of “raw conflict,” as Butler also described it, has been making audiences squirm since it first aired on May 1, 1964.

The racial antagonisms we see on-screen kept it off the air for the next couple days of decades. It was one of four Zone episodes that weren’t included in the original syndication package, and the only one excluded because it was controversial.

That’s a shame. Not because it’s a great episode — it’s not, despite earnest performances from Neville Brand and George Takei. No, it’s a shame because this episode, for all its faults, strikes me as one that’s eerily relevant today. In fact, I think we can learn something from it.

If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, feel free to watch it before perusing my spoiler-filled musings. To briefly recap: This is the one about a World War II vet and a Japanese-American who find themselves locked in an attic, arguing about a mysterious samurai sword and lobbing some racially-charged barbs.

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Only the “Best” Coffin for the Star of TZ’s “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”

You don’t have to be the most eagle-eyed Twilight Zone fan to notice that the coffin in “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank” has holes in the side.

If you assumed they were there for star James Best’s peace of mind, you’d be correct. And who could blame him? Even if you knew that your “resurrection” was imminent, it would be hard not to feel anxious with that lid closed.

And you know what? It turns out it wasn’t closed — at least not all the way. As Best relates in Martin Grams Jr.’s The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic:

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Twilight Zone’s Season 1 Opening Credits: A Perfect Passport to Serling’s World

Ask Twilight Zone fans to describe the opening to each episode, and you can be sure that many will mention the swirling vortex that spins into the vacuum of space, followed by the shattering title letters.

Or they may bring up the shattering window, the opening eye, the clock, the diver, the “E=mc2” equation. And quite a few, you can bet, will imitate the iconic “do do do do” music.

But as much as I love those elements, I can’t help thinking they got it right the first time — specifically, the opening theme for Season 1:

Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, dream-like music has a lot to do with it. It truly sounds as if we’re being ushered into that “middle ground between light and shadow.”

Rod Serling’s narration, meanwhile, is ideal — both in what he says and how he says it. His description of that land “between science and superstition” can’t help but intrigue a potential viewer, and the unhurried pace of his words sets the mood perfectly. We feel drawn in. Almost seduced, in a way.

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Why Doesn’t Netflix Carry Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?

It’s a question I hear fairly often from Twilight Zone fans: Why doesn’t Netflix stream Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?

You click the drop-down menu, and you see Seasons 1, 2, and 3 listed … and then 5. What gives?

I’ve seen a lot of guesses on Facebook and head-scratching on Twitter, so let’s just cut to the real reason. It’s not because Netflix couldn’t get the rights to Season 4 or anything like that. It’s simply that they don’t want to pay for what is arguably TZ’s least-popular season.

Season 4, for those who aren’t already aware, is when The Twilight Zone began producing hour-long episodes. Eighteen of them (about half the length of a typical season back then) aired between January 3, 1963 and May 23, 1963. For Season 5, TZ reverted to the half-hour format that had served it so well during its first three seasons.

Burt Reynolds channels Marlon Brando in “The Bard”

Whether you’re a fan of Season 4 or not (opinions vary widely in the Zone community), even those who like at least some of the hour-long episodes can’t deny that TZ was best-suited to the shorter-running time. It’s the 30-minute tales that are seared in our memory. So that’s what Netflix has decided to pay for.

For that to make sense, it’s important to know that streaming providers who want to carry a particular series have to pay a licensing fee to the owners of that series in order to do so. In the case of The Twilight Zone, the owner is CBS. So if Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime want to stream TZ, they must pay what is, in essence, a rental fee to CBS. Both sides negotiate a price and a time frame. When that time is up, they can extend it or end it.

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Serling and Shatner’s Jokes Behind the Scenes of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

I’ve written before about what a great sense of humor Rod Serling had. But one thing I didn’t mention was how much he enjoyed practical jokes. Don’t let his serious expression fool you!

Here’s one of my favorite stories, courtesy of Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion. It occurred shortly after the first broadcast of one of the most iconic episodes of the whole series, Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. According to Serling:

Matheson and I were going to fly to San Francisco. It was like three or four weeks after the show was on the air, and I had spent three weeks in constant daily communication with Western Airlines preparing a given seat for him, having the stewardess close the [curtains] when he sat down, and I was going to say, ‘Dick, open it up.’ I had this huge, blown-up poster stuck on the [outside of the window] so that when he opened it, there would be this gremlin staring at him.

So what happened was, we get on the plane, there was the seat, he sits down, the curtains are closed, I lean over and I say, ‘Dick —’ at which point they start the engines and it blows the thing away. It was an old prop airplane… He never saw it. And I had spent hours in the planning of it. I would lie in bed thinking how we could do this.

Can you even imagine what Matheson’s reaction would have been? What a great gag. It’s too bad it backfired, though I’m sure he and Rod had a lot of laughs long after that day, just recalling the attempt. Read the rest of this entry