Blog Archives

“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.

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A Harsh “Encounter”: What a Long-Hidden Twilight Zone Can Teach Us About Hate

“It was a very harsh show. I’m sure it was considered too hot to handle.”

The speaker: Robert Butler, director of Twilight Zone’s “The Encounter.”

Few fans would disagree. The episode’s unflinching depiction of “raw conflict,” as Butler also described it, has been making audiences squirm since it first aired on May 1, 1964.

The racial antagonisms we see on-screen kept it off the air for the next couple days of decades. It was one of four Zone episodes that weren’t included in the original syndication package, and the only one excluded because it was controversial.

That’s a shame. Not because it’s a great episode — it’s not, despite earnest performances from Neville Brand and George Takei. No, it’s a shame because this episode, for all its faults, strikes me as one that’s eerily relevant today. In fact, I think we can learn something from it.

If you’ve never seen it, or it’s been a while, feel free to watch it before perusing my spoiler-filled musings. To briefly recap: This is the one about a World War II vet and a Japanese-American who find themselves locked in an attic, arguing about a mysterious samurai sword and lobbing some racially-charged barbs.

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Night Gallery Headed for a Blu-ray Release at Last

I remember when I first saw Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in its original form. Not the exact date, no, but the year: 2004. That’s when NBC Universal issued Season 1 on DVD.

Until then, Gallery fans had only one choice: the reruns that aired on Syfy (and elsewhere) in the 1980s and ’90s. They were larded with commercials, of course, but worse, they were part of the Syndication Edit. I have a link at the end to explain what I mean by that, but the upshot is that the Night Gallery I’d been watching until 2004 was a poor substitute for the episodes that first aired between 1969 and 1973.

Season 1 is the shortest, though: only six hour-long episodes. Sure, the DVD set included the pilot movie — and Universal tried to pad it out further by including a couple “bonus” episodes from Seasons 2 and 3 — but we’re still not talking a LOT of entertainment. And it lacked any other extras: no interviews, documentaries, or commentaries. So I was really looking forward to Season 2 coming out.

And it did … four years later, in 2008. Then Season 3 came out … four years after that, in 2012. Eight years to collect them all!

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

“Ghost story.” The phrase evokes images of a creaky, abandoned house, filled with large cobwebs and banging shutters. A pale moon in a dark sky casts deep shadows. A figure in white glides through dusty ruins.

In other words, the opposite of what we get in Night Gallery‘s “The House.”

Oh, it’s about a ghost, but this tale of a haunting is set in bright daylight. The titular abode looks like a real-estate agent’s dream. And the apparition lurking inside isn’t a foreboding phantom under a sheet.

Sounds very modern, doesn’t it? And yet to bring viewers this unconventional twist on a familiar trope, Rod Serling adapted a story written many years earlier by a French writer named André Maurois. It’s truly a short short story — only about 800 words.

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Spotlight on Season 4: “No Time Like the Past”

What if you could change the past — not just in your personal life, but on a global scale by stopping something horrible?

That’s the central conceit of Twilight Zone‘s “No Time Like the Past,” and it’s an intriguing one. I’ll give it a full review at a later date, but for now, I want to focus on one scene in particular. Even if you’re not a fan of this episode (and not many fans give it high marks), I think we can appreciate what Rod Serling was saying — or more accurately, condemning — about halfway through the story.

For those who haven’t seen it (check here if you want to see how to watch it first), or haven’t seen it in a while, the story concerns a man named Paul Driscoll (Dana Andrews). He has a time-travel machine, and to his credit, he wants to help mankind, not just himself. So he travels back to three key moments earlier in the 20th century: the day Hiroshima, Japan, was bombed; a day when Adolf Hitler made a pre-World War II public appearance in Berlin, Germany; and the day the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed, one of the events that led the U.S. to enter World War I.

Driscoll’s intention is to stop these events. He’s convinced that the modern world, which he detests, could be changed for the better if he succeeds. Yet each time he fails. Convinced the past can’t be changed, he decides instead to go to a quiet little town called Homeville, Indiana, in 1881, to live out the rest of his life.

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Twilight Zone’s Season 1 Opening Credits: A Perfect Passport to Serling’s World

Ask Twilight Zone fans to describe the opening to each episode, and you can be sure that many will mention the swirling vortex that spins into the vacuum of space, followed by the shattering title letters.

Or they may bring up the shattering window, the opening eye, the clock, the diver, the “E=mc2” equation. And quite a few, you can bet, will imitate the iconic “do do do do” music.

But as much as I love those elements, I can’t help thinking they got it right the first time — specifically, the opening theme for Season 1:

Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, dream-like music has a lot to do with it. It truly sounds as if we’re being ushered into that “middle ground between light and shadow.”

Rod Serling’s narration, meanwhile, is ideal — both in what he says and how he says it. His description of that land “between science and superstition” can’t help but intrigue a potential viewer, and the unhurried pace of his words sets the mood perfectly. We feel drawn in. Almost seduced, in a way.

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Meet Tracy Stratford, the Only Person Who’s Not Afraid of Talky Tina

Remember Talky Tina? If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you do. The sweet-talking doll with the homicidal tendencies made quite an impression when she appeared early in Season 5.

Part of what makes Tina scary is that she’s nothing like Chucky or the other murderous playthings you may have seen on the big screen. She doesn’t run. You don’t see her waving a weapon around. She doesn’t even raise her voice. Heck, you can take a table saw to her neck, and she’ll act like you’re tickling her.

Erich Streator (Telly Savalas) learned too late how dangerous Tina could be. As the episode ends, even his gentle wife, Annabelle (that’s right, the name of the haunted doll in the Conjuring movies!) is being put on notice by her daughter Christie’s terrifying toy.

There’s really just one person with no reason to fear Tina: Christie. Indeed, Tina is her champion — to a fault.

So let’s get to know a little bit about Tracy Stratford, the girl who played Christie. This wasn’t her first appearance on The Twilight Zone. She’d already starred in another fan favorite: Season 3’s “Little Girl Lost.” Yep, she was the girl who fell out of bed and rolled into another dimension.

And interestingly enough, her character’s name in that episode … was Tina.

Here are some excerpts from an interview Tracy gave in 2018 about her unforgettable journey to that land between shadow and substance:

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Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “The Old Man in the Cave”

Not every Twilight Zone episode was a Rod Serling original. Many of them were, but two dozen of his 92 Zone scripts were based on stories by other authors.

As I’ve shown throughout my “Re-Zoning” posts, which compare the original stories to their Twilight Zone counterparts, sometimes Serling kept a substantial portion of what the author wrote. Other times, he kept only the basic idea and made so many changes that it became almost a new tale.

“The Old Man in the Cave,” which first aired on November 8, 1963, falls more into the latter category.

It’s the one about a man named Goldsmith (played by the ever-reliable John Anderson, in his fourth and final Zone role) who’s trying to keep a small band of survivors alive in a post-apocalyptic world — in the “tenth illustrious year after the bomb,” as one of them says. Yep, the Cold War obviously got hot and the nuclear holocaust happened. It’s now 1974, Serling tells us.

(As always, spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen this one before or it’s been a while, consider fixing that first, then coming back. This blog is open 24/7.)

So how does Goldsmith do it? With the help of an unnamed, unseen “old man” who appears to be a sort of oracle. He gives weather forecasts and makes crop recommendations to help the survivors avoid radioactivity. If anyone finds canned goods, he can tell whether or not they’re safe to eat. (Pro-tip: If it wasn’t canned “pre-bomb”, you might as well throw it out, no matter how ravenous you feel.)

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Enjoy an Exclusive Tour of the New “Art of Darkness” Night Gallery Book with Co-Author Scott Skelton

It’s been a long time coming, Night Gallery fans, but “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: The Art of Darkness” — an oversized volume containing high-quality reproductions of all the show’s paintings — is finally here.

Regular readers of this blog have heard me talk about it before, both in a preview post last May, and in a post about how it was available to order a few months later. The book finally started rolling off the presses late last year. It took a while for it to get out — the pandemic did no one any favors, of course — but as anyone who’s received their copy can tell you, it was well worth the wait.

I recently asked co-author and Night Gallery expert Scott Skelton if he could join me for a short Q&A about the book. Scott, you may recall, joined me for a presentation at the 2019 Serling Fest, where we marked the 50th anniversary of the original Night Gallery movie. Here’s our conversation:

Scott Skelton

Paul: So the book is out and in just about everyone’s hands at last. Are you happy with how it turned out? From the outside, it looks like it was a bigger success than you were anticipating.

Scott: We’re all very pleased with the quality of the book, how well-designed it is, how respectful it is of the artistry that went into the making of these paintings. It surpasses many coffee-table art books I’ve seen in its savvy design and high publishing standards. Then again, almost all of us involved were die-hard fans of the show and its artwork, and Taylor White, the publisher, was the biggest fan of all. He spared no expense in creating this volume.

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The Latest Twilight Zone Reboot Gets Booted — What Went Wrong?

I’ve heard quite a range of reactions to the news that Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone won’t be back for a third season. Some Zoniacs are sorry it won’t be back. Many more are glad. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.

This isn’t because I’m trying to be diplomatic. I’m genuinely ambivalent. There were elements I liked about the new version (one of which has nothing to do with the show itself). There were others I didn’t like. Most of them I touched on in previous posts about the series, and I summed them up after Season 1 in this one.

Curiously enough, the latest reboot wasn’t cancelled by the network, but by the creators themselves: Jordan Peele and his company, Monkeypaw Productions:

Why the kibosh on a third season? It’s hard to say, at least from the outside looking in. Maybe the pandemic made it difficult to get things rolling again. Perhaps they found themselves getting interested in other projects. Or it could be that we should take their statement at face value: They told their stories, it was fun, but now it’s time to move on.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if negative reaction to the series played a part in the decision. As you might imagine, I followed fan response pretty closely on social media, and every time the latest reboot came up, the opinions ran at least 80/20 against it. It may be that Peele and his collaborators were able to shrug this off, but hey, we’re human. I’d be surprised if that sort of negativity had no effect whatsoever.

So what went wrong? Let’s mention a couple of things that have come up previously, then get into some other factors we haven’t discussed before. Read the rest of this entry