Blog Archives

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “What You Need”

It’s another rain-soaked night in town, and the usual clientele is hanging out at the Del Rio bar. The unlucky and the lovelorn are in their spots, chain-smoking and drowning their sorrows, when in walks an old man carrying a peddler’s tray.

Ernest Truex as Pedott in TZ’s “What You Need”. He later starred in “Kick the Can”

But he’s not here to sell you just anything. This stranger claims to know what you need, not what you think you want. And whatever it happens to be, he’s offering it free of charge.

Pedott wasn’t the only one with this ability. His creator, Rod Serling, could look at a short story and know exactly what he had to do to turn it into a compelling TV story. And in the case of Lewis Padgett’s “What You Need”, he understood what was needed to make it work for The Twilight Zone.

If you’ve read the entry for this episode in Marc Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, you may recall that the original story “concerned a scientist who invented a machine that read people’s probable futures and who then gave them what they needed to be guided in a certain direction.”

Read Morgan as Lefty

True enough, but — as I’ve discovered in looking more closely at several other episodes that Serling adapted from the work of other writers — it’s interesting to look at what he kept and what he discarded. He retained a bit more than just the basic idea, as we’ll see. Overall, though, his changes were fairly substantial. Read the rest of this entry

Twilight Zone Streaming: Going with the Flow or Headed for the Rocks?

If you’re a fan of vintage TV shows and you subscribe to a streaming service, life is a bit like being in a “Friday the 13th” movie: You know just about everyone is going to get it — the only question is when.

“The New Exhibit”

Still, it hurts when your favorites leave. In the last week alone, I’ve seen The Outer Limits (the original and the ‘90s reboot) depart Hulu, while The Andy Griffith Show has disappeared from Netflix.

Both are included in Amazon Prime, fortunately, so I have a fallback. But even Prime has disappointed me lately. It was carrying the first season of Night Gallery (all three seasons of which used to be on Hulu until early 2019), but now even that’s gone.

A couple of other favorites, meanwhile, have gone from being free for Prime members to being something you have to pay extra for.

There are still some great old shows streaming on all three services, particularly on Hulu and Prime. And of course The Twilight Zone is on all three.

“A Thing About Machines”

The question is, how long will it remain? I don’t know the answer to that, so I’m writing today to say that if you enjoy TZ on any streaming service, don’t take it for granted. Read the rest of this entry

Time to Shelve This Criticism of Henry Bemis in “Time Enough at Last”

Today’s post concerns a Twilight Zone episode that is absolutely legendary: “Time Enough at Last”. That’s right, the one about Henry Bemis and his all-too-fragile eyeglasses.

But I’m not writing simply to get some cheap clicks, although I’ll gladly accept them. No, I’m writing to set the record straight about poor Henry.

You may be thinking: “Set what record straight?” If so, you’re probably like most fans, who realize that our mild-mannered protagonist merits our sympathy.

Well, this may surprise you, but some fans don’t feel that way. They think Henry deserves that awful ending.

No exaggeration. Amid the chorus of pity I usually hear when I post something about this episode, a dissenting voice or two arises: someone who doesn’t feel sorry for Henry at all.

Why? Because of his anti-social behavior, they say. Henry didn’t care about humanity, so when he got his heart’s delight, karma bit him in the hindquarters. Serves you right, bookworm! Read the rest of this entry

Night Gallery’s “Class of ’99”: Serling’s Chilling Examination of Prejudice

You don’t have to be the world’s greatest writer to pen an effective script about the evils of prejudice. But to do it in a witty, inventive way? To create a story that really makes you think, that stays with you long after it’s over?

Leave that to Rod Serling. Exhibit A: Night Gallery’s “Class of ‘99”. It’s a shame this story isn’t better known, because it’s one of his best works. And I don’t say that lightly.

If you haven’t seen it before, I’d fix that ASAP. It’s not long — only about 18 minutes. If you have the Season 2 DVDs, it’s the third segment of the second episode. Or you can click this link and watch it on NBC.com (with a couple of ad breaks, but at least it’s uncut). Spoilers ahead, as always.

The story begins simply enough. We see college students filing into a classroom — a rather Spartan, amphitheater-type setting, rather than the usual desks — to take their final exam. The professor (Vincent Price, in the first of two Night Gallery roles) cordially wishes them good luck as they field oral questions from him.

The first few deal with the physical sciences. The students are right on top of it, supplying names and formulas with no hesitation. Then a student named Johnson is asked to name four leading experts in the last 300 years in the field of propulsion. He falters, though, on the fourth name. The professor is clearly unimpressed, but before he can ask another student for the answer, Johnson objects. Read the rest of this entry

A Petition to Rename Binghamton’s Recreation Park for Rod Serling

It’s one of the most iconic images in the whole run of The Twilight Zone: the carousel in “Walking Distance“, Rod Serling’s bittersweet valentine to his upbringing in 1930s’ Binghamton, New York.

Even more remarkable, as many fans know, is the fact that you can visit the actual one that inspired him to write that classic episode. It’s located in Binghamton’s Recreation Park, one of six merry-go-rounds donated by businessman George F. Johnson.

Recently, I’m sorry to say, the park was damaged by fire, the result of arson that occurred in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. The playground was completely destroyed — but the carousel, thank heavens, was undamaged.

Now we have a chance to do something positive. Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and author of “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination“, has started a petition to rename Recreation Park in honor of Serling. Read the rest of this entry

Fan of Scary Stories? So Was Rod Serling. Here’s Why He Thinks We Like Them

Most of us enjoy a good scary story. Something inexplicably draws us in and makes us enjoy being frightened — at least if it’s in a controlled environment, like a book, a movie, or a TV show. The question is, why?

“The Fear”

It’s a question that Rod Serling pondered as well. Check out the introduction to “Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves”, a collection of 12 short stories (by other authors) published in 1963. It’s no longer in print, so I thought I would share his words with fans who might enjoy hearing his insights into the nature of fear:

I am unabashedly and admittedly an admirer of horror tales. If this makes me psychiatrically suspect, my guess is that I share an almost universal affliction. Of all human responses to stimuli, there is probably none quite so commonplace (and so difficult to admit) as the very human fascination for the weird, the grotesque, even the horrible.

Assuredly, it must be this fascination that grips the 10-year-old child watching a spooky movie, forces him to plaster small hands across eyes at particularly horrendous moments but then pries two fingers apart for a quick peek at the very thing that frightens him most.

“Night Call”

Our responses to this kind of “fright motive” seem to undergo a metamorphosis as we take on years. The child is afraid of the shadowy attic and the gloomy cellar. He is wary of the dark corner and the closed closet. His is the formless fear of the unknown, the unexpected; the indistinct wraith that waits to pounce. Read the rest of this entry

Netflix Cuts a Key Scene from “The Brain Center at Whipple’s”

As I’ve mentioned before, Twilight Zone fans, we’re lucky: We have many options when it comes to watching our favorite show.

I usually recommend that people stream TZ, or watch it on disc, rather than catch it in reruns on Syfy or MeTV. The main reason: the rerun episodes are cut, often quite significantly. For pity’s sake, Syfy has been known to edit out the transformation scene at the end of “The Howling Man”!

But I know of at least one episode on Netflix with a cut. And it’s a glaring one.

It comes about halfway through “The Brain Center at Whipple’s“, the man-versus-machine story that comes late in Season 5. You may recall that Mr. Whipple (played with pitch-perfect obnoxiousness by Richard Deacon) has been modernizing his factory in an alarming way: installing computers that replace workers. Not surprisingly, his employees are unhappy about the way his fanatical adherence to efficiency is leaving them jobless.

In the scene in question, one worker — the foreman, Mr. Dickerson — is drunkenly telling Mr. Whipple off on the factory floor: Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “Still Valley”

I’ve run into some surprises in my series of “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the scripts Rod Serling adapted for The Twilight Zone from other writer’s stories to the original works themselves. But I wasn’t ready for what I found when I read “The Valley Was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman.

Serling’s version, given the more concise title “Still Valley”, came early in Season 3. It also aired only seven weeks after another Civil War-themed episode, “The Passersby”. And in Season 2, let’s not forget, “Back There” covered the Lincoln assassination. Why Serling’s sudden interest, fans sometimes ask, in the so-called War Between the States? Because the country was in the midst of observing its centennial then.

Besides, the conflict, which pitted brother against brother, provided a perfect backdrop to some of Serling’s most common themes: How do we fight for something, and why? How far are you willing to go to achieve victory?

Anyone who’s watched “Still Valley” knows by the end how far Joseph Paradine, an advance scout for the Confederate army, is willing to go. He wants to win, but not at any cost. (And if you haven’t watched this one, you may want to fix that before rejoining us. Spoilers ahead, naturally.)

Fans usually recall this episode as one of TZ’s famous “statue” episodes — ones that featured numerous cast members standing perfectly still, as if they were statues. We see this: Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Lost Intros to “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby”

The best part of any Twilight Zone episode? Easy: Rod Serling’s introductions. They made even the so-so episodes better, and added an extra shine to the classics.

So I thought I would share with you a couple of intros that were, for all intents and purposes, lost: ones that Serling wrote and filmed to share “Walking Distance” and “A Stop at Willoughby” with British TV viewers.

They were part of a package that Serling and the rest of the TZ production crew assembled in early 1963 to get the series on the air in Britain. “A total of 14 [hour-long] episodes were planned, with the half-hours combined to form a similar theme for each week’s presentation,” writes Martin Grams in “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic“. They included:

  • “Third From The Sun”/”People Are Alike All Over”
  • “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”/”And When the Sky Was Opened”
  • “Time Enough at Last”/”Eye of the Beholder”
  • “100 Yards Over the Rim”/”The Trouble with Templeton”
  • “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”/”The Invaders”
  • “The Odyssey of Flight 33″/”The Arrival”

Sounds like a great way to promote the series. Alas: “Despite all [the] preparation that went into the proposed series, the BBC telecasts never aired,” Grams notes. Why, I don’t know. Read the rest of this entry

Why No One Could Have Expected “The Twilight Zone” to Last So Long

If you’re a Twilight Zone fan today, it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t viewed as … well, as a work of art, really. As something that would go on to be enjoyed by generations of viewers.

“The Midnight Sun”

But in 1959, there was no reason to think that.

Not because people didn’t expect much from Rod Serling. Not at all. The man who had won three Emmys at that point for writing some of the live-TV era’s most celebrated teleplays was widely praised. It’s just that TV worked a bit differently back then.

Okay, a LOT differently.

I touched on that in my last post, which concerned my surprise that the man brought onboard to produce Twilight Zone in its fifth season greenlit “Caesar and Me” without realizing that the series had aired an episode about a ventriloquist dummy, back in its third season. How strange, I thought. How could he be unaware of any of TZ’s previous episodes? Read the rest of this entry