Rod Serling’s scripts were nearly always so smooth, even poetic, that it’s easy to assume they just came out of his head that way. But no. Like any good writer, he edited himself — sometimes quite extensively.
I don’t mean he simply cut lines. He would also reword certain passages, often more than once. That way, he wound up with a polished product he could be proud of — one that, we can see with the benefit of hindsight, has a timeless appeal.
Consider his closing introduction to one of the most iconic episodes, “To Serve Man”. The final product goes like this:
The recollections of one Michael Chambers with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare … on the Twilight Zone.
No list of iconic Twilight Zones is complete without “To Serve Man”. Even people who have only a passing familiarity with the series know what Michael Chambers found out when the book that gives the episode its title was translated.
Among the elements that stand out — besides that legendary twist ending, of course — are how the Kanamits look, and how they sound. Regal. Benevolent. Trustworthy.
Getting the right voice was crucial. Richard Kiel, who was filmed in such a way that he could play every Kanamit, had a chance to do it. But like David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, Kiel was destined to be only seen and not heard.
“They had it in the contract that they could use someone else’s voice,” Kiel said, “but I was given a chance at it. I remember being very tired after hours and hours of makeup and filming, and I guess I didn’t do that great a job at it.” Read the rest of this entry
Remember how the Kanamits in “To Serve Man” looked? Short, fat and hairy, with pig-like faces. Three fingers on each hand. Walking around in green shorts. Hard to forget that image.
If you’re confused, it’s because you’re picturing the way the Kanamits looked in one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone. The description I just gave was how they looked in the short story that Rod Serling based his script on.
My first two “Re-Zoning” posts showed how freely Serling would adapt his scripts from the source material. He wasn’t one to simply take the story as is and put it in script form. Oh, no. Turning an intriguing story into a true Twilight Zone often required quite a few changes. Read the rest of this entry
If the idea of alien contact sounds good to you, chances are you’ve been watching “E.T.” or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” not the Twilight Zone. In Rod Serling’s universe, those who hail from Mars — or Venus, or other far-flung destinations — are usually more hostile than helpful. They don’t want to phone home. They’d rather kidnap and take you home.
Let’s look at a few episodes. To ensure we’re getting a consistent viewpoint, we’ll stick with Serling-penned stories. (Spoilers galore ahead, Zone novices. This is a post for those who have seen just about every episode.)
Start with what is perhaps the most famous TZ tale about aliens: “To Serve Man” (adapted from a short story by Damon Knight). The Kanamits just want to share the benefit of their knowledge with us suspicious humans, right? Wrong. We’re the main dish on the Kanamit menu. They’re fattening us up for the dinner table.
Or take “People Are Alike All Over.” The astronaut played by Roddy McDowall is appropriately skeptical at first, but the natives seem so accommodating that he relaxes. Too late, he realizes he’s become the main exhibit in their inter-planetary zoo.