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In Praise of Jack

The stars in the fifth dimension dimmed a bit tonight with the sad news that Jack Klugman had died.

Klugman was such a gifted and versatile actor, in fact, that his four appearances on The Twilight Zone are not even his most famous roles. He’ll forever be known for two other TV characters: sloppy sportswriter Oscar Madison on The Odd Couple, and as a sleuthing coroner on Quincy, M.E.

But there isn’t a Twilight Zone fan out there who heard the news about Klugman’s passing and didn’t think of “A Passage for Trumpet“, “A Game of Pool“, “Death Ship” and “In Praise of Pip”.

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He wasn’t classically handsome and had none of the usual “leading man” characteristics. He didn’t need them. His richly appealing “everyman” persona never failed to draw viewers in. You immediately liked and trusted him. What better qualifications could one need to take a plunge into the far corners of the fifth dimension? Read the rest of this entry

The Best of Twilight Zone’s Hour-Long Season 4 Episodes

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show. If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap opera style. Viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

That was Rod Serling speaking, a couple years before The Twilight Zone spent one season as, yes, an hour-long show.

Why? Primarily because Twilight Zone was briefly off the air following Season 3, then brought back as a mid-season replacement — and the show it was replacing was 60 minutes. Besides, if the show was a hit at 30 minutes, why not expand it to 60 and give the audience twice as much show?

It soon became clear why: Fantasy stories, especially ones that depended on a twist ending, were more ideally suited to the half-hour format. In 30 minutes, they could get in, set up an intriguing premise, and then deliver the payoff. But when you double that length, the effect is ruined. The longer the expected payoff was delayed, the more the suspense and tension was dissipated.

Take “The Thirty-Fathom Grave,” for example. It’s a story about a modern Navy ship discovering a sunken World War II submarine — and hearing a mysterious tapping sound coming from inside. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that the story, despite the usual quality touches you’d expect on a TZ, is simply too padded. Several other Season 4 episodes were also stretched out a bit too long. Read the rest of this entry