Blog Archives

No Twilight Zone Marathon on July 4th? Say It Ain’t So, Syfy

This isn’t the Twilight Zone marathon blog post I thought I’d be writing.

I was sure I’d be continuing my late-June tradition of publishing the schedule for the Syfy channel’s July 4 line-up of TZ episodes. But we recently learned they won’t be airing a marathon that day – unless you’re counting their replacement: an all-day slate of “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies.

Hey, I enjoy some Elm Street action at times. But I think even Freddy Krueger would admit the real horror here is leaving people without their biannual fifth-dimensional fix.

It’s true that this isn’t unprecedented. In 2011, Syfy ran a Greatest American Hero marathon over the Fourth. Granted, that’s more thematically appropriate, but you mess with TZ fans at your peril. They complained – mightily – and TZ returned in 2012. Read the rest of this entry

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No Laughing Matter: Serling’s “The Comedian”

The first time I saw “The Comedian,” I was astonished.

I knew it was one of a trio of works from the early days of live television drama that had earned Rod Serling his first three Emmys. But that was it. An avid Twilight Zone fan, I had watched the live version of “Patterns” (January 12, 1955), then “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (October 11, 1956), and immediately saw themes in these beautiful plays that would later emerge on his signature series.

Then I watched “The Comedian”.

Think Mickey Rooney is on fire in Twilight Zone‘s “The Last Night of a Jockey”? That episode plays like the warm-up act for his off-the-hook performance in “The Comedian” (February 14, 1957). Rooney is Sammy Hogarth, an old-school comic in the style of Milton Berle. He stages big TV specials packed with skits, monologues and musical numbers — and he makes life for his staff and family a living hell. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s 1972 Speech to Graduates: “Cherish What You Believe”

With graduation season in full swing, it seems an ideal time to share these illuminating passages from Rod Serling’s May 13, 1972 commencement address to New York’s Ithaca College:

Commencement means beginning. Those robes you now sweat under will soon be replaced by lab aprons, business suits, and whatever are the working uniforms of your chosen profession. And some of those professions will prove to be back-breaking impossibilities.

For some of you, the frustrations are only beginning. For all of you, the world society beyond this campus is going to prove tough, competitive, demanding, unforgiving of error, and full of rebuttals to the things you most earnestly believe.

So first – and most important – cherish what you believe. Don’t job off one single value judgment because it swims upstream against what appears to be a majority. Respect your own logic, your own sense of morality. Death and taxes may be the only absolutes. It’s for you to conjure up the modus operandi of how you live, act, react and hammer out a code of ethics. Read the rest of this entry

“Eye of the Beholder”: The Face Under the Bandages

She starred in one of the most iconic Twilight Zone episodes of all time. And yet if you passed Maxine Stuart on the street, you probably wouldn’t recognize her.

That’s because she spent all of her screen time under a thick layer of bandages in “Eye of the Beholder”. Yes, Stuart played poor Janet Tyler, whose only crime was not upholding the standards of beauty in some skewed dystopia.

Of course, she wasn’t the only actress who played Janet Tyler. Once the bandages were off, we saw only the face of Donna Douglas (the future Elly May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies”). So why the switch? Why wasn’t the part handled entirely by either Stuart or Douglas?

Primarily because of how director Douglas Heyes opted to handle this amazing script. He wanted the twist ending to land with a real wallop. That led him to stage it so that we never see the faces of the doctors and nurses until the big reveal.

It also led him, he later said, to audition the actors and actresses with his back to them. He knew their voices were key. So for the medical personnel, he picked ones with warm, caring voices, to make it all the more shocking when we see how they really look.

We’re supposed to assume that Janet Tyler is horribly ugly. Since her appearance is only talked about for the first three-quarters of the episode, we have to use our imaginations. So, to convey (at least aurally) the notion that she’s ugly, he cast Maxine Stuart at least in part for her somewhat rough-sounding voice. Read the rest of this entry

Saddling Up With Serling: A Pre-TZ Wild West Detour

Got a sibling? If so, did he or she ever make trouble for you? Did you ever get into arguments? Maybe even engage in some physical fights?

It’s almost silly to ask. If you have a sibling, the answer to my other questions is a resounding yes. Even if you get along now, you probably didn’t at one time, at least not when you were growing up.

Well, no matter how bad things were, I can practically guarantee that you had it better than Steve and Tony Sinclair. They’re the oil-and-water duo at the heart of “Saddle the Wind”, a 1958 feature film written by Rod Serling.

This western is about as far away from the fifth dimension as you can imagine. Instead of stark black-and-white images on a TV set, we get the panoramic open plains and mountains of the Wild West, shot in sharp, wide-screen Technicolor.

There isn’t an alien or time-travel machine in sight. This tale is set strictly in the real world (or as real as anything we ever get out of Hollywood). No specific year is given, but it clearly occurs shortly after the Civil War. Indeed, one’s former allegiance to either the North or the South comes heavily into play more than once. Read the rest of this entry

Serling on the “Special Irony” Surrounding Martin Luther King’s Death

Four days after the April 4, 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Los Angeles Times published a letter from Rod Serling:

There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise—the ritual dirge so time-honored and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life. In his grave, we praise him for his decency—but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own.

When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun—we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion—but we exercised no compassion of our own.

When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man—but we chose not to call them virtues before his death.

And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth—but the judgment comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly.

We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due. He demanded no special concessions, no favored leg up the ladder for his people, despite our impatience with his lifelong prodding of our collective conscience. He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him. We must look beyond riots in the streets to the essential righteousness of what he asked of us. To do less would make his dying as senseless as our own living would be inconsequential.

— Rod Serling

Read the rest of this entry

The Lure of Forced Utopia: Twilight Zone’s “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”

Watching The Twilight Zone can sometimes seem like a Rorschach test. What seems obvious to you may not even occur to someone else — and what they see can leave you scratching your head.

Case in point: “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”. This Season 5 episode deals with a future society in which everyone must undergo a “transformation” when they reach a certain age. They browse a set of pre-arranged body types, select one of these attractive models by number, and one painless operation later, presto, they look like all the other people with that number (hence the title). Ugliness is a thing of the past.

In the episode, however, one rather plain-looking girl, Marilyn, rebels. She doesn’t want a new face, a new body — or the transformed mind that goes with it. But her mother, her friends, and the others in her social circle will have none of it. They cheerfully keep chipping away at her resolve. In the end, she’s simply forced into it, but now she doesn’t mind. She’s last glimpsed excitedly admiring the fact that now looks just like her friend Valerie. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s “Hart”-Felt Foreward for a Favorite Cartoonist

I’m not sure why I’m highlighting this foreward that Rod Serling wrote for cartoonist Johnny Hart. Probably because it’s such a departure from what we normally think of when it comes to our TZ tour guide. It’s neither serious nor spooky — just fun.

Hart was the creator of the “B.C.” and “Wizard of Id” comic strips, both of which ran for years in many newspapers. Apparently he and Serling were pretty good friends, judging from what Serling wrote for the 1974 paperback collection “B.C. Strikes Back”: Read the rest of this entry

The Twilight Zone Companion: A TZ Trailblazer Takes Us Behind the Scenes

Let’s admit it, fellow Twilight Zone fans – we’re pretty spoiled.

Want to watch an episode or two? Have at it. You can see them on DVD or Blu-ray. You can stream them on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. You can purchase them on iTunes, or through CBS’s website — anytime, day or night.

And let’s not forget good old-fashioned reruns, which are still broadcast on Syfy, Me-TV, and other smaller channels (especially at marathon time, when I invite you to join me on Twitter).

What about books? There are plenty – ones about the show, ones about Rod Serling, ones featuring stories done in the TZ vein. There’s a movie. There was a magazine. There have been two revivals so far, and there’s talk of more to come.

In short, it’s not hard to get your Twilight Zone fix. But it didn’t used to be that way. Read the rest of this entry

Werewolves and Watercolors: Another Night Gallery Tour

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.

Those who survived … er, enjoyed our first tour, our second tour, and even our third tour, simply raved. And the doctors at the sanitarium assure us that they’re progressing quite nicely.

So ignore the sound of that icy wind outside, as we take a closer look at 10 more Night Gallery classics (click on any title — except the first one, which isn’t available streaming — to watch it on Hulu): Read the rest of this entry