Imagine you’re writing Twilight Zone‘s “Little Girl Lost”, and you get to the part where the father literally stumbles into that alternate dimension where his daughter is trapped. How would you describe it?
Sure, you could spell out what you’re imagining in detail. Nothing wrong with that. Or you could trust the Zone production crew and do what Richard Matheson did: His script at that point simply says: “INTERIOR: LIMBO.”
In “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”, author Martin Grams relates how TZ’s art director approached producer Buck Houghton, pointed out those two words, and asked, “What’s that supposed to be, Buck?” Houghton’s reply: “That’s up to you.”
His faith was certainly not misplaced. Added Houghton:
The usual criticism of Twilight Zone‘s 4th season is familiar to most fans: Stretching the series from a half-hour to an hour meant bloat. Something was lost. Suddenly more added up to less.
Sure, the series still brought us the elements of fantasy that had served it so well throughout the first three seasons: time travel, space travel, horror, and loads of irony. But the extra length mean the writers inevitably drifted more toward drama. Instead of snap, there was sag.
But hey, we’re still talking about the amazing Twilight Zone. And we continued getting stories from Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson. So we may have been denied the classic Zone formula, but we weren’t exactly getting junk.
Freed from the need to sprint to the finish line, the writers had room to explore their themes a bit more deeply. This meant padding at times, but on other occasions, it gave the material a chance to breathe and draw us more deeply into the world of the story. Read the rest of this entry
There I was, scrolling along social media, when a headline jumped out at me: “The Outer Limits Was Better Than The Twilight Zone”.
Whoa, now. Back up the space ship. What’s that again? Perhaps Talky Tina was pulling my leg.
But no. There was a picture of Robert Culp, in one of his OL appearances, adorning a Nerdist article that dared to assert a preposterous second-place finish for Serling’s brainchild. I was aghast.
Okay, I’m playing up my reaction a bit. I don’t really tie myself in knots when I read an opinion I disagree with. It’s a big world, and lots of people like different things. But I was naturally intrigued by writer Kyle Anderson’s claim, and as an Outer Limits fan myself, I had to find out: Does he make a compelling case?
No, he doesn’t. But before you assume that’s simply my natural bias speaking, let me explain why I think so. Anderson actually makes some interesting points. I just don’t think they prove his premise.
Mind you, Anderson doesn’t dislike TZ. “I would never be so foolish as to say The Twilight Zone wasn’t great television, nor that The Outer Limits‘ 49 episodes were better across the board than the 156 made for Twilight“, he writes, then adds: Read the rest of this entry
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Please step inside. A dark and stormy night may seem ill-suited to an art tour … at least until you see the unsettling works we have in store for you.
As our founder, Rod Serling, once said, “You won’t find the works of the masters here, because in this particular salon we choose our paintings with an eye more towards terror than technique.” Our paintings and sculptures have an unmistakably sinister edge.
I know our museum is more shadow-laden than most, but don’t worry. You should be quite safe. We haven’t lost anyone yet. Well, almost no one.
I’ve written about Twilight Zone’s writers. I’ve written about its directors. So how about TZ’s only writer-director?
I’m referring to Montgomery Pittman. Don’t know him? I can guarantee you know his work. That is, if you’ve heard of a TZ episode called “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
No, Pittman didn’t write that one. Everyone’s favorite extra-terrestrial whodunit was penned by the incomparable Rod Serling, of course. Pittman also directed one other TZ ep scripted by a writer other than himself (Charles Beaumont’s “Dead Man’s Shoes”).
But the other three episodes he helmed were his own stories — memorable tales that many TZ fans list among their all-time favorites:
Season 3, Episode 1 – September 15, 1961
At a time when TV scripts tended to be pretty talky (many early TV writers, after all, had gotten their start in radio, Serling included), this near-silent look at the aftermath of what appears to have been an all-out nuclear war shows the power of pictures. An American male soldier and a female Russian one somehow manage to put aside their suspicions and find peace amid the rubble.
For anyone who thinks of Charles Bronson only as a violent vigilante in “Death Wish”, or of Elizabeth Montgomery as a button-cute witch in “Bewitched”, this episode is an eye-opener. Pittman showed they were capable of much more.
No wonder The Twilight Zone is such a classic. Most of the time, you were getting scripts written by the master himself, Rod Serling. And when it wasn’t him, it was often someone like Richard Matheson.
So I hardly think it’s a coincidence that “Third From The Sun” is such a highly rated episode. After all, you have the talents of both men at work here.
That’s not to say they collaborated in the conventional sense. I mean that, as he did with “And When The Sky Was Opened“, Serling adapted one of Matheson’s short stories.
He took the title and the basic idea — and added all the usual Serling touches to turn it into a Zone classic. As Stephen King later said of what was only the 14th episode of the first season, “It marks the point at which many occasional tuners-in became addicts.”
(Spoilers ahead, naturally. The episode can be watched on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It’s also on DVD and Blu-ray.)
Matheson’s story, which had first appeared in the October 1950 issue of Galaxy, is a marvel of economy. Virtually no extraneous details decorate this taut tale of a man and wife (and neighbors) determined to make their getaway from a world on the brink of all-out war.
“Where am I? What is this, some kind of a joke or something? I don’t know you. I don’t know any of you!” — TZ’s “A World of Difference”
Such confusion can be fun when we’re enjoying a story from the fifth dimension. After all, reality can be boring … except, of course, when it comes to behind-the-scenes info about The Twilight Zone itself. Not all surprises took place in front of the camera.
Rod Serling made a point of saying, even before The Twilight Zone debuted, that he wasn’t interested in settling for “second-best”. And it showed. He hired the best people, then turned them loose on some of the best scripts ever to grace the television medium.
I focused in a recent post on the world-class directors who made their mark on TZ. It was hardly an exhaustive piece, but that was by design. You could fill a book with all the marvelous touches these talented visual storytellers brought to TZ.
So I focused primarily on James Sheldon’s work on “It’s a Good Life,” hoping to come back from time to time to spotlight other directorial highlights. Well, the recent anniversary of Richard Matheson‘s “A World of Difference” made me think of another: the shot that reveals to the lead character that he’s an actor on a movie set. Read the rest of this entry
Improve on Richard Matheson? Yeah — right, pal. Who do you think you are, Rod Serling?
You are? Well. Carry on, then.
Kidding aside, that’s what Serling did when he bought the rights to Matheson’s short story “Disappearing Act” and adapted it into The Twilight Zone episode “And When The Sky Was Opened.”
Perhaps “improve” isn’t exactly the right word. The short story works fine as a short story (duh, it’s Richard Freaking Matheson), but as a TV episode, well … something else was needed. And few writers were ever better equipped to supply that “something else” than Rod Serling.
As you may have seen in my previous “Re-Zoning Efforts” post (on “The Four of Us Are Dying“), Serling wasn’t one to simply take a story “as is” and put it on screen. It wasn’t unusual for him to start with the basic idea and completely recast it. Read the rest of this entry
People sometimes joke that Rod Serling and the other Twilight Zone writers must have been very strange people. Surely nobody sober and “normal” like the rest of us could come up with such wild story ideas, right?
The reality is reassuringly mundane. The show wasn’t written by eccentrics who consumed hallucinogenics by the handful. They were disciplined, talented writers who had sharp, quick, vivid imaginations.