Category Archives: Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone Episode That Never Was: A Serious Look at a Humorless World

Have you ever watched a Twilight Zone, then thought about how it’s even more relevant today than when it first aired?

If so, you’re not alone. Many fans feel that episodes ranging from “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” to “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” offer more insight into our own time than they did into the early 1960s. We joke about the writers having Mystic Seers and time machines, but what they really had was a deep understanding of human nature — which, of course, never changes, no matter what the era.

But every now and then, you encounter an episode that seems eerily prescient. Case in point: Charles Beaumont’s “Gentlemen, Be Seated.”

Doesn’t sound familiar? I’m not surprised. It was commissioned and written, but never filmed (though it was later made into a TZ radio drama). When producer Bert Granet took another job shortly after Season 5 began, he left behind several assignments, including this Beaumont script. The next producer, unfortunately, didn’t care for “Gentlemen, Be Seated,” so he passed on it.

Which is a shame, really. I read it recently, and believe me, the feeling of déjà vu was particularly strong. Check out the radio summary, and I think you’ll see why: “In the future, humor is outlawed, so James Kinkaid joins a secret underground organization, the Society for the Preservation of Laughter, which exists to keep comedy and satire alive.” Read the rest of this entry

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This Twilight Zone Actress Said She “Never Forgot” Serling’s High Praise

I often focus on the writing behind The Twilight Zone, and for a good reason: It’s the blueprint, the spine … in many ways the heart and soul of stories that resonate deeply with so many of us.

But a script can’t come alive without directors, actors and other crew members ⁠— and Serling attracted the best. I’ve highlighted some of TZ’s directors and big stars, but today I’d like to feature a lesser-known actress, one who took a single scene in the Season 1 favorite “The Four of Us Are Dying” and really made it her own.

The story concerns a man named Arch Hammer with a unique talent: he can change his face to look like anyone else. All he has to do is concentrate for a few seconds on how that person looks, and voila, he’s transformed into an exact duplicate.

This being the fifth dimension, Hammer has decided to use this skill for personal gain, no matter who else gets hurt. Part one of his scheme is turning himself into a dead ringer of a dead musician: Johnny Foster. That way he can reconnect with Johnny’s grieving girlfriend and make plans to run away with her after he has (unbeknownst to her) impersonated a slain gangster and stolen a lot of money. Read the rest of this entry

Black and White Vs. Color: Creating that “Twilight Zone Feeling”

Almost as soon as Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot was announced, some fans began asking, “Do you think they’ll film it in black and white?”

I didn’t blame them for wondering, though it seemed like a very remote possibility. Sure enough, the series debuted in color. And yet, as the first season of the reboot draws to a close, what do we have? All 10 episodes also available to watch in B&W.

“Nightmare at 30,000 Feet”

It’s a cool little gift to the show’s fans, no question. And it reminded me how lucky we are that the original series was filmed that way.

That’s right — lucky. The fact that the original Twilight Zone is in black and white wasn’t part of some master plan. In 1959, all TV shows were in B&W.

TZ stands out today, of course, in large part because its reruns look so different from the color shows around it. But back then, being a black-and-white show was commonplace. I’m sure that if color had been the standard when TZ first aired, it would have been in color, too. Read the rest of this entry

Catching “The Fever”: Where Serling Got The Idea

So many memorable stories begin in a writer’s mind with a simple question: “What if … ?”

Ideas can come from anywhere — something you read, something you hear, or something you experience. The difference between the writer and the rest of us is pushing beyond the moment and asking that crucial question.

Richard Matheson, for example, did it with “Little Girl Lost” when his young daughter rolled out of bed in the middle of the night. And Rod Serling did it with “The Fever”. (Spoilers ahead, naturally.)

Twilight Zone fans often call Earl Hamner’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” the ultimate ad against drunken driving. Well, “The Fever” does the same thing for unchecked gambling.

Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “Execution”

“I was amazed at what Rod had done.” — George Clayton Johnson

If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you know the work of George Clayton Johnson. He wrote some of TZ’s most beloved episodes, including “A Penny For Your Thoughts”, “Nothing in the Dark”, and “Kick the Can”, which was remade for “Twilight Zone: The Movie”.

But even before he sold his first script to TZ, Johnson was contributing to the series. Rod Serling adapted two of his short stories for the first season: “The Four of Us Are Dying” and “Execution”.

I’ve already outlined how drastically Serling overhauled a story that Johnson called “All of Us Are Dying”. The changes he made for the then-unpublished “Execution” weren’t quite as extensive, but still — he made it uniquely his own.

Spoilers lie just ahead, of course. If you’ve never watched “Execution”, I urge you to check it out before reading the rest of this post. (It’s on disc, of course, as well as streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.)

If you have watched it, though, you know it tells the story of Joe Caswell, a criminal who lived in the Wild West. When we meet him, though, he’s not about to do much more living. His neck is in a noose. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Clever Formula for Making Political Points on Twilight Zone

Every now and then, I’ll see an argument erupt on one of Facebook’s many Twilight Zone fan pages. Not about which episode is best — though feelings can run strong about that, too — but about politics.

Someone will post a meme about something that’s in the news, and the sparks start flying. Because getting political violates the ground rules for these pages, the admins soon delete it. Some people even end up getting thrown out if they’ve been especially rude.

One thing almost always occurs before the dust settles, though. Most people approve of the no-politics rule, but someone will say something like, “Well, Serling was political!” Or “The Twilight Zone was about politics!”

And you know what? They’re right. But when we look at how Serling handled politics on TZ, we see a window into why he was so clever, and why the show’s popularity endures to this day. Read the rest of this entry

Declare the Upcoming Twilight Zone Reboot “Obsolete”? Not So Fast

We’ve been hearing about the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot for quite a while, and now we have a premiere date: April 1, 2019.

If you’re like most TZ fans, your reaction falls into one of two camps: enthusiasm or dread. I see it almost every time the reboot comes up:  Someone either can’t wait, or is sure it’ll be a complete mess — a stain on Rod Serling’s legacy.

I have to admit, I fall somewhere in between. Basically, I’m cautiously optimistic.

I get the enthusiasm of the “pro” crowd. They’re TZ fans, so it’s only natural that the prospect of new episodes excites them. Who wouldn’t want a return trip to the fifth dimension? I like these kinds of stories myself, obviously, and I enjoy other anthologies, so the thought of having new episodes sounds like fun.

But I also sympathize with the “anti” crowd. Look at the first two reboots, they say. Sure, the ’80s one had some good stories, but by and large, it didn’t measure up — and the 2002 TZ was worse. Why should this one work? And come on, there’s only one Rod Serling!

Look, I understand. The challenge of rebooting one of the most beloved TV series of all time — of filling the shoes of the incredibly talented Mr. Serling — should give any sane person pause. Read the rest of this entry

A Stop at Syfy: Some Twilight Zone Marathon Musings

I’ve been poring over the list of episodes for the upcoming Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy (I can tell you’re shocked) and, well, some random thoughts occurred to me:

  • If you’re a fan of Season 4, you’re out of luck. Syfy won’t be showing any of its 18 hour-long episodes. Now, I think we can all agree that TZ is best suited to the half-hour format, so I suppose their decision is a practical one, but in the past, they’ve nearly always worked in a couple of them here and there.
  • If you’re fan of Seasons 3 and 5, you’re definitely in luck. Syfy will be running every episode from both of those seasons.

“Good news, Mr. Wilson — ‘Walking Distance’ made the cut.”

  • As for Seasons 1 and 2, it’s not bad: They’re showing about half of S2 (15 of its 29 episodes) and roughly two-thirds of S1 (23 of its 36 episodes). Unfortunately, a lot of them (at least when it comes to S1) are clumped up toward the end, in the wee hours of January 2, when viewership is sure to have dropped off.
  • I realize they can’t include every episode (except the one time they did, back when we rang in 2016), but honestly, no “The Howling Man”? No “Mirror Image”? No “A World of His Own”? Heck, no “Night of the Meek”? It’s the Christmas season! Especially when we’re getting “Young Man’s Fancy”, “Showdown with Rance McGrew”, and “Cavender is Coming”, all of which make my list of least-favorite episodes.

Read the rest of this entry

Syfy’s 2018-2019 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

I have to admit, being a fan of the Syfy Channel’s biannual Twilight Zone marathon has been a bit nerve-wracking lately.

Every New Year’s and Fourth of July, there they were, serving up a generous helping of our favorite show. The only question was what episodes they’d show and when it would start. When, not if.

Some line-ups were better than others (the every-episode-in-order one that ushered in 2016 was particularly well-received). And yes, in 2011 they celebrated the Fourth of July with a slate of “Greatest American Hero” episodes. But for the next few years, they didn’t miss.

Until last Fourth of July rolled around, and Syfy delivered a roster of “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Um, fireworks and Freddy Krueger? At least the “Greatest American Hero” made thematic sense!

True, a station named “Decades” stepped into the breach with an all-day Zone-a-thon. Much appreciated, to be sure, but — for now, at least — they don’t have the reach of Syfy. Most fans couldn’t tune in.

So when Syfy announced earlier this month that they were indeed hosting a New Year’s marathon, it was welcome news to a lot of Zone fanatics. Um, Zone-y-acs? Read the rest of this entry

“Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”: A Review

Looking for a book about Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone? Until a few years ago, your options were pretty limited.

Many fans have a dog-eared copy of Marc Zicree’s “The Twilight Zone Companion,” but not simply because it’s a good book: For a long time, it was the only game in town.

But now? Take your pick.

You can read books by experts such as Amy Boyle Johnson (“Unknown Serling: An Episodic History, Vol. 1”), 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”).

There’s also Anne Serling’s “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling”, a heartfelt portrait of everyone’s favorite ambassador to the fifth dimension. There are books about the philosophy of TZ, the music of TZ … the list goes on.

So why would you pick up a new, 584-page book by Nicholas Parisi called “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”? Read the rest of this entry