Blog Archives

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

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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

“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

The Rise of the Machines: A Human-Less Workplace

Headlines are supposed to catch your eye, and this one certainly did: “He’s one of the only humans at work — and he loves it”.

I’m sure any fellow Twilight Zone fan can imagine what episode I immediately thought of. Images of Robby the Robot behind a desk in the closing shot of “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” suddenly filled my mind.

The article in question focused on Zou Rui, an engineer at a factory in Shanghai, China, and one of the humans mentioned in the headline. He works for JD.com, an e-commerce company that is “one of the most automated in the world,” the writer tells us.

“Analysts say it’s a peek at the future of manual work in China and beyond — a place where a chosen few tend to the machines, while most workers have been rendered obsolete.” Um, “obsolete”? Now I’m really getting a TZ vibe. And not in a good way. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “It’s a Good Life”

“It’s an adaptation of what has been called one of the most terrifying modern fantasies ever written.” — Rod Serling on “It’s a Good Life”

One key to being a good editor is knowing what to change — and what to leave alone. Change for the sake of change is a rookie mistake.

Rod Serling knew that well. When he bought the rights to a story for use on The Twilight Zone, he did exactly what was necessary to make it work for television. No more, no less.

Sometimes — as with “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “The Four of Us Are Dying” — that meant making some pretty drastic changes. Other times — with, say, “To Serve Man” — he presented the written story a bit more faithfully.

In the case of Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life”, it was more than a bit. Bixby had already provided a very visual story, so Serling transferred much of what we find on the page to the screen.

But he did make a few interesting changes. Read the rest of this entry

Serling Edit: The Outro to “To Serve Man”

Rod Serling’s scripts were nearly always so smooth, even poetic, that it’s easy to assume they just came out of his head that way. But no. Like any good writer, he edited himself — sometimes quite extensively.

“A Thing About Machines”

I don’t mean he simply cut lines. He would also reword certain passages, often more than once. That way, he wound up with a polished product he could be proud of — one that, we can see with the benefit of hindsight, has a timeless appeal.

Consider his closing introduction to one of the most iconic episodes, “To Serve Man”. The final product goes like this:

The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare … on the Twilight Zone.

Read the rest of this entry

Serling on Camera: Filming “the Star of the Show”

“Because there was no regular, recurring cast, he was, in essence, the star of the show.” — Billy Mumy on Rod Serling

“The Old Man in the Cave”

Billy has a point. Anthologies differ from other TV series in one important way: Every episode offers us an entirely new story, with a new cast. The only continuity is the quality of the series itself.

The Twilight Zone had that in spades, obviously. But it had something else: Rod Serling, on screen. Hinting at what we’d see in the episode ahead, then returning at the end (at least vocally) to offer some wry comment about what we had witnessed.

I don’t know about you, but his presence is one of my favorite things about the series. “I think it was a major factor in the success of the show,” William Self, the producer of “Where is Everybody?” once said of Serling’s narrations. Read the rest of this entry

From Reel to Real: “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”

The Twilight Zone has a pretty straightforward moral code. The evil are punished. The proud are humbled. The good are rewarded. The forgotten are remembered.

True, there are some exceptions. “Time Enough at Last,” for example, appears to be a prime instance of Fate punishing an innocent. The earthlings in “To Serve Man” did nothing to merit becoming “an ingredient in someone’s soup.” But by and large, you deserve the ending you get.

And then there’s “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”.

It’s the earliest example in TZ of someone yearning for the past. It aired just before “Walking Distance”, which explored this theme so beautifully that it inevitably overshone its predecessor.

But Shrine‘s problem isn’t merely standing in the shadow of “Walking Distance”. I think this episode fails to really resonate with fans because the main character, Barbara Jean Trenton (played by the amazing Ida Lupino, who would later direct TZ’s “The Masks”), is a hard figure to sympathize with.

Read the rest of this entry

Spotlight on Season 4: “Passage on the Lady Anne”

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.

“Mute”

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

Serling Fest 2018: Celebrating TZ — and More — in Rod’s Hometown

My disappointment over Syfy ditching the July 4th marathon was, I’m happy to say, fairly short-lived. On July 5, I hit the road for “Serling Fest 2018” in Rod’s hometown of Binghamton, New York.

It was a first for me. I’d never been there before.

Surprised? I don’t blame you. Considering how long I’ve been fanning publicly over Serling’s work (starting when I set up my Twitter page in September 2010), you’d think I’d have visited long before now. But the timing or the money (or both!) was never right — until now.

It was a long drive (four hours one-way), but well worth it. It’s one thing to read about Serling’s childhood experiences, or to view pics online. It’s another to walk the streets he did and reflect on the fact that you’re in the very spot where, for all intents and purposes, The Twilight Zone was born.

Read the rest of this entry