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.
“This is the way the world ends,” T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem The Hollow Men. “Not with a bang but a whimper.” Surely, though, the same fate should not befall The Twilight Zone?
Alas. 50 years ago today, on June 19, 1964, the last episode of the fifth season aired: “The Bewitchin’ Pool.” Even fans of this episode (and my most recent post showed that I’m not one) wouldn’t call this one a bang. Sorry, but this was no way for Rod Serling’s ground-breaking foray into the fifth dimension to conclude.
But that’s the thing: It wasn’t supposed to end at that point. At least not as far as Serling was concerned. He’d already been mapping out plans for a sixth season, and I can’t help but feel that the way he talked about it suggested an awareness that TZ needed a return to form of sorts after an interesting but uneven Season 5.
On February 5, 1964, at the mid-point of Season 5, Serling wrote to Aldon Schwimmer of Ashley Steiner, the talent agency that represented him, with what he planned to do for the new season. According to author Martin Grams: Read the rest of this entry
The title of a particular TV episode means almost nothing to the average TV viewer. An entertaining story is all we ask. Yet some writers do take care with their titles … and it can even affect how good the episode is.
Case in point: “Spur of the Moment,” from Twilight Zone‘s fifth season. The highly imaginative Richard Matheson explains:
I love that title! She married on the “spur of the moment,” really. She married for emotion. And there was also the spurs of the person riding the horse … there were multiple and hidden meanings in that title, which is something I like to do. Titles are very important, and it’s really nice if you can get a good one. As a writer, I prefer to have the title occur to me instantly — even sometimes before I do the story. It colors how I approach the story, and I feel much more comfortable.
Having a catchy title must have helped. There’s a good reason I included “Spur of the Moment” on my list of the best Twilight Zone episodes to watch on Halloween. Read the rest of this entry
Recently I was contacted by a reporter working on an article about the latest release of The Twilight Zone on DVD. We talked about many aspects of the show, but the first thing he asked was why I thought it continues to have such lasting appeal.
It’s a fair question. I mean, it’s been 50 years! TV shows come and go by the truckload. In an age of digital streaming and CGI wonders, what accounts for the popularity of some black-and-white series that premiered back when Dwight Eisenhower was president?
There are many ingredients you can point to: the acting, the photography, the twist endings. And quite rightly; TZ was a first-class affair from top to bottom. Read the rest of this entry
It’s a Halloween staple that ranks right up there with spooking trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and wearing outlandish costumes: watching a scary-movie marathon.
But in an age of digital streaming and high-quality DVDs and Blu-rays, why limit yourself to movies? Why not program a few chills right from the fifth dimension?
True, The Twilight Zone is generally considered a science-fiction series (although I think it’s so unique that it defies easy classification). And yes, the stories dreamed up by Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and other TZ writers were usually designed more to intrigue and edify than to disorient or frighten viewers.
But every now and then, the series gave us some old-fashioned scary moments that might cause even your favorite vampire to glance over his shoulder. So here, in the spirit of October 31st, are 13 Twilight Zones that may make you think twice about turning out the light (click any title to go to the Hulu link and watch it):
Season 5, Episode 6 — November 1, 1963
Some tips for those who find themselves near Talky Tina: If she says she hates you, don’t laugh at her. If she threatens you, don’t mock her. Erich Streator (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) did, only to discover that Tina is very serious about protecting her young owner. DEADLY serious. Beaumont (aided by an uncredited Jerry Sohl) gives us a creepy tale that does to dolls what Hitchcock did to birds. Read the rest of this entry