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.
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.
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
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.Read the rest of this entry
It’s a question I hear fairly often from Twilight Zone fans: Why doesn’t Netflix stream Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?
You click the drop-down menu, and you see Seasons 1, 2, and 3 listed … and then 5. What gives?
I’ve seen a lot of guesses on Facebook and head-scratching on Twitter, so let’s just cut to the real reason. It’s not because Netflix couldn’t get the rights to Season 4 or anything like that. It’s simply that they don’t want to pay for what is arguably TZ’s least-popular season.
Season 4, for those who aren’t already aware, is when The Twilight Zone began producing hour-long episodes. Eighteen of them (about half the length of a typical season back then) aired between January 3, 1963 and May 23, 1963. For Season 5, TZ reverted to the half-hour format that had served it so well during its first three seasons.
Whether you’re a fan of Season 4 or not (opinions vary widely in the Zone community), even those who like at least some of the hour-long episodes can’t deny that TZ was best-suited to the shorter-running time. It’s the 30-minute tales that are seared in our memory. So that’s what Netflix has decided to pay for.
For that to make sense, it’s important to know that streaming providers who want to carry a particular series have to pay a licensing fee to the owners of that series in order to do so. In the case of The Twilight Zone, the owner is CBS. So if Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime want to stream TZ, they must pay what is, in essence, a rental fee to CBS. Both sides negotiate a price and a time frame. When that time is up, they can extend it or end it.Read the rest of this entry
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.
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