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Serling Edit: Cutting a Scene of Larceny in Twilight Zone’s “Where is Everybody?”

October means Halloween to a lot of people — myself included — but it also makes me think of The Twilight Zone. I know, I know. I hardly need any encouragement, do I? And yet October is special because it’s the month that TZ premiered in 1959.

It was on October 2 of that year — at 10:00pm EST, if you want to be precise — that anyone turning to CBS saw the first episode, “Where is Everybody?” The story of an Air Force pilot who hallucinates himself into an empty town during isolation training was Stop #1 for those curious enough to explore Rod Serling’s “middle ground between light and shadow”.

So I thought I would share something fun today. It’s something Serling included in an early draft of the episode, but which was apparently never filmed: a scene in which pilot Mike Ferris steals from the town bank.

That’s right. Our fine, upstanding astronaut-to-be — a common thief!

According to the draft in volume one of “As Timeless as Infinity: The Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling”, this scene occurs after the one in the movie theater. So, at least in the final episode, it’s close to the moment when Ferris is pulled from the isolation booth.

Not in this early version of the script, though.

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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.

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A Pilot … About a Pilot

Where did Rod Serling get the idea for the Twilight Zone pilot, “Where Is Everybody?”

Serling appears in a short film introducing advertisers to "Where is Everybody?"

Serling appears in a short film introducing advertisers to “Where is Everybody?”

Like many good stories, it came from more than one source. In this case, Serling had been reading about real-life isolation experiments being conducted on astronaut trainees in the then-fledgling U.S. space program. Add to that two personal experiences:

I got the idea walking through an empty village set at the back lot of a movie studio. There was all the evidence of a community … but no people. I felt at the time a kind of encroaching loneliness and desolation and a feeling of how nightmarish it would be for a man to wind up in a city without inhabitants.

The second experience occurred when he found himself in an airport phone booth. “I heard the loudspeaker,” he later recalled. “I started to push on the door, and I couldn’t get out, and I got panicky. I started to yell at people, ‘Could you do this?’ Suddenly some guy comes along and kicks it with his foot. I wanted to die.”

Twilight Zone fans will recognize this incident as the inspiration for the scene in which Earl Holliman, playing astronaut Mike Ferris, can’t get out of the phone booth in the empty town square. (Of course, he had no one around to ask for help.)

Leave it to Serling to blend these elements into a memorable opening for The Twilight Zone.

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

“Where Is Everybody?”

Aliens. Monsters. Talking dolls. Time travel. Space flight. Alternate universes. Nuclear annihilation.

Over its five-year run, the Twilight Zone took viewers to a wide array of times and places, entertaining them with some wildly imaginative and entertaining tales. But it all started with a man walking around an empty town and wondering … well, to quote the title, “Where Is Everybody?”

It served as an ideal introduction to Rod Serling’s fifth dimension. Greater episodes lay ahead, but this story of a military test pilot who finally cracks after spending two and a half weeks alone in an isolation booth put viewers on notice — without getting too trippy — that this was no ordinary series.

A likable protagonist with a problem? Check. A situation that is familiar yet strange? Check. A clever twist at the end? Check. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to that “middle ground between light and shadow.” Fun, isn’t it?

In one respect, the episode turned out to be atypical — the story it depicts could happen. The odd circumstances all occur in the mind of a hallucinating astronaut, who, as it turns out, is doing something perfectly normal, especially for 1959: preparing himself for the rigors of space travel. Viewers could relate, and yet Serling subverted their expectations just enough to create an entertaining yarn.

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