Blog Archives

The Imaginative World of Charles Beaumont: Vote for His Best Twilight Zone Story

The most famous writer of The Twilight Zone? Rod Serling, obviously. Besides creating, producing, and hosting the series, he penned no fewer than 92 scripts for it. But after him?

Charles Beaumont

Most fans, I think, would pick Richard Matheson. And who could blame them? The legendary author’s contributions to the Zone include some truly iconic episodes, such as “Little Girl Lost,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

Few fans would name Charles Beaumont. And that’s a shame. Not only was he the most prolific Zone writer after Serling — logging 22 scripts to Matheson’s 14 — but his fertile imagination created some of the most mind-bending tales in the fifth dimension.

So I thought it might be fun to give fans a chance to select their favorite Beaumont episode, the same way I did with Matheson back in 2013. In fact, I was thinking about doing a new Matheson poll post when it occurred to me to finally do one for Beaumont. I’ll circle back to Matheson soon enough, but let’s give Beaumont some much-deserved attention.

Read the rest of this entry

Night Gallery Season 2 is Headed to Blu-ray — Here’s What to Expect

For a long time, I had nothing hopeful to say when Night Gallery fans would ask me if we’d ever see a Blu-ray release of the series.

Rod Serling introducing “Make Me Laugh”

I’d tell them how long it took for it to come out on DVD, and say we were lucky to have it on disc at all. MAYBE we’ll see a Blu-ray someday, I’d add, but don’t hold your breath.

Then Season 1 came out on Blu-ray last November.

And Season 2, I’m happy to say, is about to follow — either on July 19 or July 26, depending on who you ask.

This is terrific news for a couple reasons. One is that Season 2 marks when the series went to a weekly format, so you get a lot more material. Many of the show’s finest segments aired in Season 2, like “Class of ’99” with Vincent Price, “Cool Air,” “A Death in the Family” and “Green Fingers.”

“Class of ’99”

The other reason is that Kino Lorber has really packed this one with extras. Besides the cleaned-up video and audio, we get audio commentaries on every episode, not the half dozen or so we got on the Season 2 DVDs. I’m especially glad to see so many by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, co-authors of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour” (which will soon be released in an expanded and revised edition).

Read the rest of this entry

The Secret Behind Nehemiah Persoff’s Vivid Portrayal of a Twilight Zone Villain

So few of the original Twilight Zone stars are still with us. Just a handful, really, if you don’t count ones who were children when they appeared on the show. So when one of them dies, it can feel like we’ve lost a close friend or family member.

Such was the case when the news broke that Nehemiah Persoff had passed away at 102. A gifted and prolific performer, he played a memorable villain early in the Zone‘s first season.

An amnesiac who spends most of “Judgment Night” trying to figure out who he is and why he has a premonition of doom, U-boat Capt. Carl Lanser may not be as hateful as SS Capt. Gunther Lutze in Season 3’s “Deaths-Head Revisited,” but his eternal “reward” is no less harsh. It turns out (spoiler alert!) that he is constantly reliving the night he ordered the destruction of a WW2-era ship loaded with civilians — this time as a passenger on the ill-fated vessel himself.

I have yet to do a deep dive on “Judgment Night.” That will come, but my goal today is more modest: to share a tribute to Persoff published in The Washington Post. Most of the Post‘s content is behind a pay wall, but it’s my understanding that this article is free to all. Even if you can’t read it all, though, I just want to spotlight a couple of points in it, which I’ll quote here.

Read the rest of this entry

The Right Length for a Twilight Zone: Half an Hour or an Hour? How Serling’s Answer Changed

Opinions about Twilight Zone‘s fourth season, when Rod Serling’s landmark anthology series expanded to an hour, vary widely. Some fans really enjoy it. Others? Not so much.

“I Dream of Genie”

But even the biggest cheerleaders for Season 4 will admit that Serling and his fellow scribes were much more in the Zone, shall we say, when their stories clocked in at 25 minutes, not 50.

“Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” Serling said at one of several points when talk of an hour-long version came up. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap-opera style. Viewers could watch 15 minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”

There’s a little Zone-like foreshadowing. Serling’s foray into the fifth dimension soon became an hour-long jaunt, and his warning about “fleshening” would prove prophetic. You’ve heard of doing more with less; this was a case of doing less with more.

“The Incredible World of Horace Ford”

That’s not to say Season 4 didn’t have some good episodes. We got, for example, “He’s Alive” (with Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi being coached by Adolf Hitler’s ghost), “The New Exhibit” (Martin Balsam as the curator of some homicidal wax figures), “Printer’s Devil” (Burgess Meredith as a diabolically talented journalist), and “On Thursday We Leave for Home” (James Whitmore as the power-hungry leader of a barren space colony).

I could name others, and perhaps you could too. As Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, wrote: “The series had not disgraced itself.”

Far from it, in fact. Still, it was wise to go back to the half-hour slot for Season 5. As Buck Houghton, TZ’s producer through its first three seasons, later pointed out, the extra length made it very tough to do the kind of surprise endings that Serling and the other Zone writers specialized in throughout most of the show’s run.

Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “Cool Air”

If you’re a Night Gallery fan, you get used to hearing some people dismiss it, based either on the syndication edit (which butchered some episodes and padded others) or because someone who’s never seen it read something negative about it. One of the most persistent myths is that Rod Serling merely hosted the series.

No one can deny that Night Gallery would’ve been better off if Serling had been more involved. However, he did more than simply host it. He created it, for one thing. He fought with producer Jack Laird to make it a better series, and he even scored a few victories. Perhaps most importantly, he wrote for it: 38 scripts, some of which can be ranked among his finest work.

As on The Twilight Zone, he came up with some excellent originals. But he also adapted some intriguing short stories by other authors – 17 of that 38 – and as I’ve shown in the first two entries of my “Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts,” he often improved on the source material.

So let’s proceed to stop number three in this “nocturnal arcade.” I’ll give you a recap of the episode so we can better appreciate how Serling changed the original short story by H.P. Lovecraft. (Spoilers ahead, so if you’d rather see the Gallery version first, check it out on DVD.)

We’re in New York City in 1923. But the short opening scene is in the present (or the then-present) as an as-yet-unseen narrator – an elderly lady, from the sound of it – moves through an unkempt, windy graveyard and finally stops and lays flowers on a flat, leaf-covered tombstone. She’s visited this person once a year for over 50 years, she says, but it’s been so long now she has trouble recalling his face and his voice.

Read the rest of this entry

Syfy’s 2021-2022 New Year’s Twilight Zone Marathon Schedule

Ah, the Twilight Zone marathon. It’s become such a fixture of each New Year’s Eve. Can you think of a better way to ring out the old and ring in the new than with Rod Serling?

Sure, there are drawbacks to watching the Zone this way. The ads and the edits sometimes seem as if they’ve been engineered by Talky Tina. It’s best to watch the show on disc, frankly. But there’s something comforting about the tradition of the NYE marathon. Plus, it’s great to all be watching at the same time and interacting over social media.

So let’s get to the big question: What will they be showing this year? I know some fans like to be surprised, but most fans appreciate a heads up. So, courtesy of the friendly folks at Syfy (who were nice enough to share the lineup with me ahead of time), here’s the schedule for the 2021-2022 marathon: 104 episodes out of TZ’s 156. Times shown are EST, btw:

Read the rest of this entry

A Kickstarter Campaign is Underway to Build a Statue of Rod Serling in His Hometown — And You Can Help

What does Rod Serling mean to you?

Perhaps you’re a writer who finds his work inspiring. In fact, you may have even gotten into writing in the first place because of Rod Serling. I hear from a lot of people who say that.

Maybe you’re an actor or a producer whose imagination was sparked by The Twilight Zone, and your career path was lighted years ago by the man who penned such classics as “The Midnight Sun”, “Eye of the Beholder”, and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, to name only a few of his many beloved scripts.

Or, like so many others, you could be a fan of science fiction and fantasy stories, and you can trace your love of the genre back to watching the Zone.

Whatever your particular circumstances, we share that bond: a love of Serling’s work, and a deep and abiding respect and admiration for the man himself. So let me ask you: Do you think he deserves to have a statue dedicated to him in his hometown of Binghamton, NY, home of the carousel that we see in “Walking Distance”?

I’m sure every Serling fan would agree that he merits such an honor. Well, I’m glad to say there’s an effort to get such a statue made underway right now — and you can help.

Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Framing Efforts: Night Gallery’s “The Doll”

Willie. Caesar. Talky Tina. Yes, when it came to haunted dolls, The Twilight Zone certainly left its mark. But Night Gallery made one notable contribution to this spooky subgenre in its first season: “The Doll.”

That’s right, Gallery fans — the toy that resembles Barbie on meth. Talky Tina liked to talk, but not this little darling. Like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, she prefers to keep quiet (at least when she’s on screen) and let her weapons speak for themselves — said weapons in this case being a set of sharp teeth.

I guess with a calling card like that, you don’t need a name. Here’s how Serling sets it up:

“This little collector’s item here dates back a few hundred years to the British-Indian Colonial period — proving only that sometimes the least likely objects can be filled with the most likely horror. Our painting is called ‘The Doll,’ and this one you’d best not play with.”

This, by the way, is one of the few Gallery intros that fans will often quote to me — that last phrase, anyway — if I share the painting for this episode, or just a pic from it. So this story obviously has had a real impact on most viewers!

Read the rest of this entry

Serling Fest 2021: An All-Star Line-Up Set to Appear in Binghamton Oct. 15-17

It’s been two years since we last had an in-person Serling Fest. Thanks a lot, Covid! 😒

We didn’t go completely without last year, though. Thanks to Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation (and author of an excellent volume on Rod Serling), we got to enjoy a one-day virtual Fest in August 2020. It was certainly fun, but there’s no substitute for meeting in person, is there?

So I’m happy to share with you the line-up for this year’s in-person (but masked) Serling Fest. It’s a packed agenda, and it includes a special guest: Marc Scott Zicree, author of the indispensable “Twilight Zone Companion.” There’s going to be talks, live performances, games, prizes — even a Kickstarter campaign to get a Rod Serling statue built in Recreation Park. And admission is free.

You may notice a familiar name on Sunday’s dance card. That’s right, yours truly will be there, in a presentation that covers “Rod Serling’s genius in adapting classic short stories by other authors into Night Gallery episodes.”

Read the rest of this entry

“The Fugitive”: A Sweet Tale That Makes Some Twilight Zone Fans Uneasy. Should It?

When you’ve been fanning publicly over The Twilight Zone as long as I have, you start expecting certain reactions.

For example, when I tweet about “To Serve Man,” I know some people will make cookbook jokes. When I post a quote from “Time Enough at Last,” I’ll hear, “It’s not fair!” If the topic is “It’s a Good Life,” then “You’re a bad man!” is coming. And that’s fine! It’s part of the fun.

But not all predictable reactions are so benign. One that I don’t enjoy at all occurs when I tweet about “The Fugitive,” a story by Charles Beaumont that centers on the friendship between an old man named Ben and a young girl named Jenny.

This being the fifth dimension, Ben isn’t just an ordinary old man. In fact, we learn near the end (spoiler alert; click here to see where you can watch it first) that he’s neither old nor a man. Not an earth man, anyway. Ben is actually a rather young king from another planet.

So why was he here, disguised as actor J. Pat O’Malley? Because he got fed up with his royal responsibilities and ran away. The two men who have been hunting him down during the first half of the episode mean him no harm; they’re a duo from his planet, here to bring their popular monarch back home, where he can continue his benevolent rule.

Read the rest of this entry